It's hard to find a more highly touted draft-day genius than Sam Presti. The Thunder are the team of the present and future directly because of Oklahoma City's deft draft-day selections, and although the Thunder as we know them wouldn't also be complete without smooth free agent signings and carefully managed contracts, it was the draft itself that brought Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka to the franchise. That kind of return is completely indisputable, and while general managers are expected to make the most out of high draft selections (Durant, Westbrook and Harden were selected first, fourth and third overall in their respective drafts), Presti's run of success has been fairly uncanny.
All of which makes him a fairly impossible role model. As much as we'd like to suppose what Presti—or another successful GM—might do in some circumstance or another, there's no secret to his selections beyond careful evaluation, creative thinking and some incredible luck; Presti's greatest achievement wasn't that he made a single good selection, but that he made three dynamite picks in three consecutive lotteries.
That's indicative of real skill (and a killer scouting department), but also great fortune. That three such players were even on the board when the Thunder selected in three consecutive years is miraculous in itself, and though Presti wisely sussed through the prospects available to take some incredible players, he could only find what was there to be found.
If anything, the Presti way is built on patience rather than prescience. He built a roster by connecting on his shots in the draft dark, but he built a contender by slowly piecing together a talented core and giving it the time to grow into itself. He didn't panic at Durant's early struggles, he didn't bail on Westbrook, he allowed Harden to thrive as his team's sixth man and he let Ibaka mature. He set a course and modified it accordingly, but allowed himself the flexibility to make the moves that the Thunder franchise sorely needed.
Presti isn't a great general manager because he made draft selections that turned into outstanding players. He's a great general manager because he made those picks and didn't obstruct them. He let standout talent stand out, and had enough faith in himself and his staff to trust in the decisions they had made. That may sound easy, but it's a notion that has eluded far too many GMs in our time and has come to provide the foundation of one of the league's finest teams.
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