When center Nazr Mohammed played for the San Antonio Spurs in 2005-06, he came in to do extra work on off days and often found himself casually chatting with the team's director of player personnel at the time.
A 29-year-old kid named Sam Presti.
It's no coincidence both men are now with the Thunder.
“Oh, that's a huge reason why I'm here. No question,” Mohammed said. “We just had a good relationship and that translated to me coming here.”
As general manager of the Thunder, Presti traded Morris Peterson and D.J. White to the Charlotte Bobcats on Feb. 24, 2011, in exchange for Mohammed.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Mohammed brought a much-needed inside presence, but Presti saw more than that and constantly raves about Mohammed's professionalism and diligence in preparation. “He's been like that since I've known him,” Presti said. “Those are important qualities to any winning program.”
Having won the 2005 NBA championship while with the Spurs, Mohammed also brought invaluable experience and wisdom to a young Thunder locker room alongside another Presti acquisition that came that same day — center Kendrick Perkins, who won the 2008 title with the Boston Celtics.
Although 33 years old at the time of the trade, Mohammed still was productive. He was averaging 7.3 points and 4.9 rebounds in just 16.7 minutes with the Bobcats, which would translate to 15.7 points and 10.7 rebounds in 36.0 minutes.
Mohammed's numbers have been more modest with the Thunder, particularly this season (2.7 points; 2.7 rebounds; 11.0 minutes), but his value remains whenever the Thunder frontcourt gets thin due to injuries and/or foul trouble.
Presti also appreciated Mohammed in San Antonio, but could not afford to re-sign him.
Mohammed remained with the Spurs for the season following the championship and made 30 starts, but signed as a free agent with the Detroit Pistons for $5.215 million after making $5.5 million with the Spurs.
Mohammed said he was looking for a long-term deal at the full midlevel exception, which the Pistons offered but the Spurs did not.
“I was looking for more stability with the years,” Mohammed said. “It didn't really come down to a dollar number. It was a little bit more money in Detroit and the years.”
Last June, Mohammed signed a one-year extension with the Thunder for $3.75 million.
One month earlier, he posted his reasons for wanting to remain with the franchise on his Twitter account: “In OKC I have (a) chance 2 compete 4 a Championship, opportunity 2 share what I know (with) a young team, chance 2 learn how 2 run a top notch organization & unbelievable fans ...”