Sam Presti hired P.J. Carlesimo — remember him? — in July 2007 to coach the Seattle SuperSonics.
P.J. lasted one year in Seattle and 13 games in Oklahoma City, where his Thunder went 1-12.
But Carlesimo could spot a man who knew what he was doing. That summer almost four years ago, Carlesimo talked about the boy wonder, the 30-year-old Presti, who had been handed the reins of an NBA franchise.
“Sam is the key to the whole thing,” Carlesimo said. “He's got a very definite plan of how he wants to build. He wants to play defense. He wants to have good people. So much of it is stuff he's seen first-hand that he knows works over the long haul.”
The Presti Plan. We heard about it when this team was in Seattle, we heard about it incessantly when this team moved to town and we heard about it when the Thunder stunk.
We don't hear about it so much anymore. But we should. The Thunder has been, with Miami and Dallas, the most impressive team in these NBA playoffs. The Thunder leads its series against Denver 2-0, and what we see is the Presti Plan bearing bountiful fruit.
Carlesimo had most of the plan down pat.
Defense first, and if anyone had forgotten, the trade for Kendrick Perkins reminded us all.
And good people. That doesn't mean all choir boys. That means staying off the police blotter and staying in the gymnasium. Example, you think Russell Westbrook is lucking in all those 3-pointers? No. He was a great athlete and a good player who in two short years has made himself into a great player.
But the Presti Plan to rebuild this franchise also included two more cornerstones.
* Don't overpay. A market like Oklahoma City can't sustain success unless the organization is fiscally responsible, and Presti has spent wisely. Clay Bennett and Co. opened the armored car for Kevin Durant, but the Thunder signed Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Perkins to reasonable contracts. That means the Thunder has a fighting chance to keep its budding stars.
* Don't panic. Don't cash in long-term viability for short-team thrills.
“It's not easy in this league,” said Thunder coach Scotty Brooks. “We've had some tough times. Some guys want to make a quick fix. He wasn't one who drifted down that path. He was focused on building a team that would last. We take pride in that.”
Presti always had the future in mind. Thinking ahead is how through trades he turned Johan Petro into Thabo Sefolosha and Kurt Thomas into Serge Ibaka. Managing the NBA payroll cap is how Presti signed Perkins to a $34.8-million, four-year contract extension after the Celtics couldn't offer near that kind of money.
“He's been excellent, building the moves he made for us,” Durant said. “Trading away Jeff Green? That's a bold move.”
Durant said Presti should rival Pat Riley for NBA executive of the year, though I told Durant that Dwyane Wade was the Heat's executive of the year.
Presti learned his craft in the San Antonio organization and has used the Spurs' model for the Thunder.
“I was positive Sam was going to turn the franchise around,” said the Thunder's Nazr Mohammed, who arrived in February via trade from Charlotte but who played on San Antonio's NBA title team in 2005, when Presti was working for the Spurs. “He had a plan. He had a formula, similar to what they did in San Antonio.
“Real smart guy. I was excited for him. San Antonio, they put together a great group of smart guys.”
It does help when you're smarter than the average bear. Truth is, Presti has outfoxed a bunch of NBA general managers, not so much in one-sided trades, but in having cap space that allowed Presti to obtain talent other teams couldn't afford.
Intelligence is the catchword when people discuss Presti.
“He's a lot smarter than me,” Brooks said. “He uses words I need help understanding.”
But Presti has more than smarts. He has drive.
“You can tell he has a passion for his job,” Brooks said. “He practices what he talks about. He's a worker. He's diligent on his work.”
Brooks jokes that the first time he and Presti saw each other, they probably thought the same thing. “Who's that ballboy?”
Brooks had a youthful look when he was a journeyman point guard. Now Brooks coaches a youthful ballteam that is the talk of the NBA, thanks to a man with a plan.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.