We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.Henry David Thoreau
The Oklahoma City Thunder and General Manager Sam Presti have been sitting on the largest war chest in basketball, and that needs to change.
Presti acquired this war chest by trading the Thunder’s most iconic superstar, Russell Westbrook, and All-Star Paul George, signaling the end of an era in OKC.
Presti’s trade was a blockbuster, sending George to the LA Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and seven picks.
But it was when he traded the Thunder’s heart and soul that it became official: the end of the first generation of the Oklahoma City Thunder was here. Presti traded Westbrook to the Houston Rockets to reunite with former Thunder teammate and former MVP James Harden, acquiring future Hall of Famer and top-ten point guard of all time Chris Paul in return. The trade involved two protected first-round picks (2024 and 2026, both protected Nos. 1-4) and two pick swaps (2021 and 2025).
The organization now possesses sixteen first-round picks from 2024 to 2030. The time for developing young talent has come to an end. It’s time to become a legitimate contender this season or face the real threat of losing their young superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA recently turned 25 years old and signed a five-year, $172 million maximum rookie contract extension back in 2021. This contract will rise to $207 million with a 30% escalator clause should Gilgeous-Alexander be voted to one of the three All-NBA teams, which he achieved last season, earning his first-ever first-team All-NBA selection.
Through all the assets Presti has acquired over the last four seasons, none are more valuable than the Canadian superstar. The Kentucky product averaged 31.4 points, 5.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1.0 block per game. He shot 51% from the floor, 34.5% from three, and 90.5% from the free throw line. The 25-year-old joined the All-Star game this season as a representative of the 40-win Thunder team. Kevin Durant, Westbrook, Paul, and George were the four Thunder players who participated in the All-Star weekend before him.
The team’s goal of bringing in talented players has been achieved with names like Luguentz Dort, Jaylin Williams, Jalen Williams, Aleksej Pokusevski, Josh Giddey, Chet Holmgren, Isaiah Joe, Tre Mann, and Gilgeous-Alexander. There is pronounced talent in this group; last season showed that when they finished 40-42 and also won a game in the play-in tournament. The team is now better after focusing on drafting more talent.
Last season showed that the team is prepared for the challenge of playoff basketball. But can Sam Presti shift his mentality and make them contenders in the Western Conference? If the answer is yes, then he will have to spend his treasured war chest and go get another superstar or two.
The biggest squad leap Presti could make would be in the big department. Chet Holmgren and Aleksej Pokusevski are the only 6’11” plus players on the list and if you’re standing beside them, they would disappear, they are so thin. Thunder rank 8th in offensive rebounding with 11.4 per game, 21st in defensive rebounds at 32.3 per game and 14th in total rebounds at 43.7. Two potential targets for the Thunder are New York Knicks star Julius Randle who ranks 8th in DREB and Phoenix Suns big DeAndre Ayton who ranks 12th in DREB. Both players are contracted to 2025-2026, with Randle having a player option in his final year.