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News » In Presti they trust

In Presti they trust

In Presti they trust
The burning question following the fourth pick in last year's NBA Draft was posed in a single word.


One year later, Oklahoma is no longer questioning its team's decision-making. Ask a Thunder fan who they want with the third pick in tonight's draft and you'll likely be met with a counter that forfeits opinion and exudes faith.

"Whoever Sam Presti is having."

It's a stance that almost comes as a shock when you consider the Thunder is still days away from only its one-year anniversary in Oklahoma City. But it's taken Presti, the team's general manager, less than 365 days to secure a stranglehold on his fan base's trust and support.

In Presti's hands is the fate of the franchise's future. What he does with the No. 3 selection tonight could seriously shape how the Thunder bounces back from a 23-win season next year while determining just how promising Oklahoma City's highly-heralded future really is.

Presti will make his decision tonight, and the fans will live with it. The pick (or trade) could come as a complete shock, but the benefit of the doubt would reign supreme.

"I'm on the in-Sam-we-trust bandwagon," said Bobby Wester, a fan from Oklahoma City.

It's a view that's shared by many but one that doesn't stop at the fans. It's extends throughout the league, shared by scouts and coaches, GMs and owners, agents and analysts.

It's a testament to Presti prestige.

"It's humbling for me," Presti said on the eve of his third draft.

Draft analysts have targeted five players the Thunder could select with it's top choice tonight - Spain's Ricky Rubio, Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet, Arizona's Jordan Hill, Arizona State's James Harden and Davidson's Stephen Curry.

Truth is, no one knows what Presti will do. Count team chairman Clay Bennett among the masses.

Prognosticators projected Presti to pick from Jerryd Bayless, Brook Lopez, Kevin Love or Eric Gordon last year. He passed on them all and took a little-known guard out of UCLA named Russell Westbrook.

The second-guessing was silenced after Westbrook posted rookie averages of 15.3 points, 5.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals. But surprising in-season signings of Nenad Krstic and Shaun Livingston, and a trade for Thabo Sefolosha, also cemented Oklahoma City's faith in Presti.

"I don't think he's made too many wrong moves since he's taken over there," said one Western Conference scout. "I don't think there's any reason for anybody there to think that whatever decision he makes wouldn't be the right one. His track record to me so far is proven."

Chad Ford, who covers the draft for, called Presti "one of the brightest, most intelligent GMs in the league," an innovator who experiments with new methods rather than relying on the NBA's old front-office habits.

"He went from a team that was just a disaster to a team that I believe is one of the best up-and-coming teams in the league and a team that's going to be very well-positioned to be a legitimate title contender. That's not easy to do."

Presti selected Kevin Durant, a no-brainer No. 2 overall selection, in his first draft as GM in 2007. But he made good on his reputation for having an eye for talent three picks later when he had the Boston Celtics on his behalf select Jeff Green, another underestimated player but one that fit the Thunder way.

Presti's only gaffe in that draft came when he traded away second-round pick Carl Landry. Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who, like Landry, has evolved into another effective big man off the bench, also got away in the Ray Allen-for-Green swap.

But along with Westbrook in 2008, Presti plucked Serge Ibaka, a 6-10 power forward who is raw but has jaw-dropping athleticism. Ibaka continued playing overseas but could prove to be a gem at No. 24. D.J. White also was acquired in a draft-night trade with Detroit in exchange for one guy who had only a cup of coffee last season with the Pistons and another who might never get a taste.

Promising rookie Kyle Weaver was later acquired in a trade with Charlotte for a second-round pick in this year's draft.

"Every draft pick is an educated guess, but Sam's educated guesses so far have proven to be very solid," said ESPN Basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla.

Said one prominent agent of the 32-year-old Presti: "I think there were a lot of people that were questioning that hire because he was so young. But he's a worker. And he's done a good job putting together some really good pieces. And if he continues to do that they'll end up in the playoffs one day soon."

Mike Baldwin contributed to this story.

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: June 27, 2009


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