Still searching for some last-minute clues about what the Thunder will do in Thursday night’s NBA Draft?
Look no further than Sam Presti’s draft history. It might reveal all you need to know about the team’s plans.
Presti, the forward-thinking Thunder general manager, has overseen seven drafts. He’s traded up in five of those drafts but a total of six times, including each of the last two occasions in which he’s had multiple first-round selections.
He again is armed with two first-round picks this year, the 21st and 29th selections.
“I wouldn’t rule out anything,” Presti said earlier this month.
Including trading one or both the picks for future assets, something Presti has done only once on draft night during his tenure.
“I think there’s a big difference between picking a player and selecting a player,” Presti said. “When you’re picking, you’re picking from not necessarily things that you want. Selection, to me, is when you’re selecting from a pool that you value. We want to be in position to select. If we’re in a position simply to pick, then we’ll probably move the pick on.”
Depending on how the first-round plays out, the Thunder could take a hard look at trading out of this year’s draft, especially with several teams devoid of any selections this year. Those teams, New York, Brooklyn, Golden State, Portland and New Orleans, all could piece together packages to entice the Thunder to ship its selections.
The Thunder and Knicks have long been linked to a deal that would send guard Iman Shumpert to OKC for one of the Thunder’s first-round picks. With Carmelo Anthony opting out of the final year of his contract, however, the possibility of that deal might now be on its death bed.
But history says the Thunder will do all it can to avoid trading out.
What Presti’s history also reveals is his ultra-aggressive philosophy of putting the Thunder in better positions to select from its desired pool. And what we’ve seen within that philosophy is Presti’s willingness to select a player higher than he was projected if that player fits the organizational culture.
Andre Roberson is on the roster today because of that approach. Presti pulled a shocker last year when he moved up three spots from 29 only to take the relatively unknown Roberson out of Colorado. He moved up by sending Golden State the 29th pick (Archie Goodwin) and cash.
In 2011 and 2012, the Thunder had only one first-round pick and stood pat at 24 and 28, respectively. But it worked out. The Thunder took Reggie Jackson in 2011 and gladly welcomed Perry Jones III when he fell in 2012.
But in 2010, we saw Presti send the 21st and 26th selections to New Orleans for the 11th pick, which became Cole Aldrich. In 2009, Presti moved up one spot, from 25 to 24, to ensure he got Byron Mullens. In 2008, he sent the 32nd and 46th selections to Detroit for the rights to 29th overall pick D.J. White. And in 2007, Presti traded Ray Allen to Boston for the rights to fifth overall pick Jeff Green.
Several factors could make shooting up the draft board much more difficult this time around. This year’s class is considered one of the best in years, with such exceptional talent at the top that teams are likely to balk at giving up their selection or require a hefty ransom. Additionally, other teams are in better positions than the Thunder to offer better picks to any team considering trading back. Phoenix, for example, owns the 14th, 18th and 27th selections. Charlotte holds the ninth and 24th spots. Chicago can barter with the 16th and 19th picks.
Equally detrimental to the Thunder’s chances is salary cap constraints. OKC simply is in a much different place financially now than it was in 2010, when it could easily take on the final year of Morris Peterson’s contract, a $6.6 million commitment that New Orleans wanted no part of, to jump 10 spots. And you can forget the Thunder parting with any of its core players.
If we’ve learned anything about Presti through the years, though, it’s that his creativity can never be underestimated. Still, the numerous challenges of moving up this year are what make it impossible to overlook the possibility of the Thunder trading out.
There is one potential saving grace — LeBron James opting out of the final two years of his contract with the Miami Heat.
Teams might now look to slash players and shed payroll for a shot at signing James. It could create a trickle-down effect upon which Presti has proved he won’t hesitate to pounce.
Remember, James might not have been able take his talents to South Beach had it not been for Presti. A day before the 2010 draft, and just weeks before James produced the NBA’s most scrutinized “decision,” Presti traded the 32nd overall pick to Miami for Daequan Cook and that year’s 18th overall pick. It was a haul for the Thunder and part of a necessary fire sale by the Heat, who had to cut salary to make room for the eventual signings of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Should the Clippers, Rockets, Mavs or Bulls enter the latest LeBron sweepstakes, every complementary piece on those rosters would become expendable, allowing clever GMs like Presti opportunities to ride the wave and acquire quality players for pennies on the dollar.
But an equally, if not more, likely scenario this year can be seen in the pick Presti got from the Heat four years ago. That 18th pick became the only first-round selection Presti has ever parted with for future gains. He sent eventual selection Eric Bledsoe to the Los Angeles Clippers for a future first-rounder. That pick was later packaged to Boston as part of the Kendrick Perkins trade.
If all else fails, something similar could be seen Thursday night with the 21st and 29th selections.
“Sometimes improvement comes without addition,” Presti said. “And sometimes addition can create what’s called compression. My job is to calculate how we best get the most out of the team so that the coaches have as many options as possible to build the deepest team and put players on the floor that are going to grow throughout the season and probably throughout the years.”
It could be a wild night.