Despite his modest, almost invisible existence from the outset, Presti quickly made an impression on Popovich and Buford.
“I think everybody knew before the week was up that he'd be running the league eventually,” Buford said of Presti.
A 1970 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a member of the U.S. Armed Forces Team, Popovich is a man who expects much from those around him, and he absolutely gushes about Presti.
“He's one smart dude, No. 1,” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News of Presti. “That's the first thing you figure out very quickly with Sam. The second thing you figure out, he's a total team player, just a great human being who is comfortable in his own skin, loyal, hardworking. He couldn't have been better for us, and he's even better now.”
Buford said Presti's rapid rise in the front office was a team effort, not an individual quest by Presti.
“We were in this deal together, so it wasn't just giving him responsibilities,” Buford said. “We shared a lot and we grew a lot. Our whole group continued to grow together and anything you gave Sam, he could handle. He just continued to crank out bigger and better work.”
In June of 2007, Presti became general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics at age 29, the second-youngest GM in NBA history.
“We tried to keep him in a closet for a while, so nobody would know about him,” Popovich joked of Presti's humble beginnings as video coordinator. “It became common knowledge around here that he was very sharp and would be looking for his own deal someplace. The time we had him, we were just thrilled.”
In July of 2008, the Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City, became the Thunder and by the end of its second season, the franchise was well on its way to becoming a league darling.
And it all has come under the direction of a cerebral, wheeler-dealer in Presti, who started out as a jack of all trades and progressed to one of the best traders in the business.