Ego, money, loyalty and prayer all fit into the NBA off-season as teams fight for the attention and then services of free agents. This year we have seen a few “what the heck” moments, but what it all boils down to is what did a players ex-team do that made said players want to leave and sign some place else.
I never thought Dwyane Wade would ever leave Miami but differences of opinions between he and Pat Riley left the Heat without their superstar and a roster full of what ifs. But I can do you one better. I can introduce you to Sam Presti, the architect of one of the greatest rosters in NBA history, but let ego and money destroy his team.
It has to be hard work being a GM of any team in any sport. You are the money man, the problem solver, the negotiator, simply put, you are in control. You have your GMs that fail season after season with terrible trades, bad signings and outrageously stupid draft picks but then you get the ones with that golden touch. You know the kind, the ones where every decision they make is right on the money. That is Presti, well at least it was.
Presti has been with the Oklahoma City Thunder since 2007 when they were still the Seattle SuperSonics meaning, you guessed it, he drafted Kevin Durant. But it didn’t end there. He’s also responsible for the drafting of Russell Westbrook Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka and James Harden over the course of his career. Take a second to let that lineup sink in. Westbrook who is an All Star, Durant, All Star, Harden, All Star, Ibaka, one of the best defensive big men in the game and Green a do-it-all SF. There are a few hidden gems in there with Steve Adams as well but looking at that core of players just mentioned you would see why the Thunder were always in title talks.
But nothing last forever, or could it?
It started with Green. Presti wanted a defensive Center, figuring he had enough scoring with Harden, Westbrook and Durant so he sent Green packing, basically for Kendrick Perkins of the Boston Celtics, needless to say that was the beginning of his downfall. Perkins helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals but he was just another big body that offered not much else. The scoring of Green may have helped their chance against the Heat but we would never know. His next mistake was the handling of Harden and his contract. Harden loved the 6th Man role, and wanted to stay in OKC but Presti trying to call Harden’s bluff lost out and Harden went to Houston and became the best shooting guard in the NBA.
Presti still had Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka there but you could tell the players were a bit leery of his recent moves and decision-making. His draft picks were sloppy, his off-season signings were not well thought out but he decided to roll the dice knowing he always had two aces in the hole in Russ and Kev. Oh how wrong he turned out to be.
The foundation was already cracked when Harden left but this off-season it all came crashing down after a 3-1 series collapse against the Golden State Warriors. Durant was a free agent and we knew that Presti was not about to let Harden 2.0 happen again. We may never know what made Durant leave. There are whispers that there were problems with Westbrook, maybe it was the trade of Ibaka that made Durant change his mind about staying. It wasn’t all about winning because the Thunder proved they could beat the Warriors so it had to be more to it than that. Maybe he looked at Presti and thought, “you are not the golden man anymore”.
Presti went from drafting a possible Western Conference All Star team to possibly watching every one of those players walk. At first when Durant signed with the Warriors I thought it was because of Westbrook but in the end it may have been about Presti. He gambled away their title chances, broke up friendships and now his prize recruit of golden choices just gave him a taste of karma.