Despite the Thunder’s new position among the league’s elite, he says, “We’re certainly not content. What we’re trying to establish here is an organization that has great endurance . . . that’s capable of sustaining success.”
For three seasons, the Thunder has been on a straight-line climb. The team’s winning percentages during the run best reflect its big-headline-worthy progress: .610, .671 and .712 (the NBA’s third best this season). Its postseason ascent has been no less remarkable: After pushing the eventual champion Lakers to six games in an opening-round 2009-10 playoff loss, the Thunder advanced to the Western Conference finals last season.
“We’ve had a lot of good fortune as we’ve gone through this process,” Presti said, again with modesty.
The Thunder was touched by serendipity even before it became the Thunder.
After cutting his teeth for seven years in the San Antonio Spurs’ rock-solid organization (Presti held a variety of positions, eventually rising to assistant general manager), Presti was only 30 when he was named the Seattle SuperSonics’ general manager in 2007.
The dismal Sonics already had one foot in Oklahoma City (the team and the city of Seattle failed to reach an agreement on a new arena) by the time Presti signed on, but they had the No. 2 overall draft pick. With the draft’s first selection, Portland chose center Greg Oden. Then Presti picked Durant.
Major injuries have derailed Oden’s start-and-stop career. Since he joined the NBA, Durant, who was born in the District and raised around Prince George’s County, has been in the Hall of Fame express lane.
The league’s three-time defending scoring champion, Durant is one of the faces of the NBA. He’s a tech-lab clean megastar who’s just fine with Oklahoma City’s slow-paced lifestyle.
On the same night James partnered with ESPN in his narcissistic made-for-television announcement about joining the Heat, Durant simply tweeted that he had reached an agreement to remain with the Thunder through the 2016 season. He’s a hip-hop heartland hero.
“We’re four years into our existence in Oklahoma City. By way of example, the Boston Celtics have 66 years of history,” Presti said. “It will take a long time to build an identity for our organization . . . so having a person like Kevin Durant wear the uniform, being part of the first team that represented Oklahoma City, [was] incredibly meaningful.
“Our guys . . . they’re young. There’s gonna be twists and turns. We understand that. But if we stay on course, and continue to support them as I’m confident we will, we can hopefully build an identity the people of Oklahoma City can be proud of.”
The thought of Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka working together for a decade or so probably isn’t comforting to other would-be title contenders. And that’s just the way Presti has planned it.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid