MAITLAND, Fla — Throughout the week at the Orlando Pro Summer League, Thunder general manager Sam Presti has been working the phones and monitoring league gossip in between close inspection of his young team, many of whom are already under contract and in Las Vegas, where the team departed for on Friday afternoon.
What he hasn't been doing, and won't unless the right opportunity comes along, is looking to shake up his roster with a major free agent signing. The methodical approach remains in play.
In that regard, Presti hasn't deviated from the plan he hatched when he took over as GM in the team's final season in Seattle, trading Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen for draft picks and cap space and electing to build a team in his vision from the ground up.
"It's the hedgehog concept," said Presti, referring to a term used in Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, a popular philosophical guide for managers and directors. "We're navigating the course without steering away from what's important to us or making rash, irresponsible decisions that could cost us in the long run."
The hedgehog concept is similar to the tortoise and the hare fable in the approach that slow and steady ultimately wins the race. It's very easy to get enamored with a high-profile free agent or the prospect of a major trade and steer off course, disrupting the growth and continuity of his operation. The hedgehog approach calls for patience and a committed approach to long-term success.
Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook were all home runs as far as draft picks are concerned, elite prospects in their early 20s who have the athleticism and work ethic to grow into superstars. Not whiffing on those selections, even though many second-guessed the Westbrook choice at No. 4 last season, has eased the pressure to do anything hasty.
The Thunder's biggest splash last season was the acquisition of Tyson Chandler, which the team rescinded due to health concerns. That's another instance where management opted to err on the side of caution, avoiding the possibility of having "dead money" on the roster, a player eating up a large part of a salary cap despite being unable to perform. In these economic times, that scenario can cripple a team.
Barring an opportunity too good to pass up, it's likely that the signings of Nenad Krstic and Shaun Livingston late in the season will wind up as the biggest splashes Oklahoma City makes as far as roster upgrades outside of the draft are concerned. Krstic landed Oklahoma City an affordable center ahead of a market that has seen career backup Marcin Gortat land a five-year, $34 million deal from Dallas and Cleveland invest six years and roughly $50 million on Anderson Varejao.
Considering the NBA salary cap was reduced by $1 million on Tuesday night and is expected to be dropped further next year, massive contracts like those are precisely what Presti wants to avoid handcuffing the Thunder with. Although high-profile free agents Andre Miller, Lamar Odom, David Lee and Allen Iverson are still out there looking for a big payday and Oklahoma City has the cap room to afford them, the patient approach is expected to win out.
That's just fine by head coach Scott Brooks, who is looking forward to another round of summer league observation out in Las Vegas, not to mention a training camp where he expects to see all this off-season work pay off.
"Kevin (Durant) is 20 years old. He has a chance to get better for the next 10 seasons. He's getting stronger, Russell (Westbrook) is working out and Jeff Green is improving, so all of our guys are getting better," Brooks said. "One thing that Sam will definitely always bring is high character guys and that's what we have. We have a team full of high-character guys committed to getting better, loving the game and respecting it. They're all gym rats."