OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The words rebuilding and tanking don’t sit well with Thunder general manager Sam Presti.
He prefers the terms repositioning and replenishing.
No matter what he calls it, he has quite a task in front of him after trading Oklahoma City’s two best players __ All-Stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook __ and a rising star in Jerami Grant.
It’s the start of a new era, a transformation that began abruptly when George made a trade request, leading Westbrook to seek another destination, too. George joined Kawhi Leonard with the Los Angeles Clippers, while Westbrook is now partnered with former Thunder teammate James Harden in Houston.
Presti publicly thanked Westbrook and George on Thursday, then said he is looking forward to the challenges ahead. Oklahoma City has stocked up on future first-round draft picks, and Presti believes the deals netted some good players in Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“I think our focus right now is on the team that we have,” he said. “It’s going to be a different iteration of Thunder team than we’ve seen over the last several years. But I would just say that we’re going to take a very long view to make sure that we’re putting ourselves in position to have a long run of success in Oklahoma City as we possibly can and not shortcut that process.”
Presti acknowledged that a reboot might have been just a year away, but he feels like he took advantage of the situation he was presented with George.
“In this case, he was able to get where he wanted to go, we were able to find a way to maximize the situation for ourselves, and I don’t believe that at the end of the year, we’d be looking at a fraction of what we were able to recoup in this situation,” he said. “We’re pleased with the outcome.”
The Thunder got Paul in the Westbrook trade. Paul played for the Hornets in Oklahoma City after the New Orleans team was temporarily relocated following Hurricane Katrina. He is one of the most decorated active players in the league, a nine-time All-Star who still can rack up the assists and knock down open shots.
“Having Chris Paul return to Oklahoma City is a really unique thing, and we’re really excited about what he can bring to the team, not just as a player but also as a leader,” Presti said. “His ball handling skills, his ability to make shots, and just, again, to have another Hall of Fame player don the Thunder jersey in our first 12 years will be a really, really special thing for our organization, for our fans.”
Presti didn’t say how long he expected the 34-year-old Paul to be in a Thunder uniform. Paul has three seasons left on his deal with a player option in 2021-22. He averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists last season.
The Thunder added Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander in the George trade. Gallinari, a forward, averaged a career-highs of 19.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season and made 43.3 percent of his 3-pointers. Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-foot-6 point guard, averaged 10.8 points and 3.3 assists as a rookie last season.
“We’re really excited about him,” Presti said. “I think he’s not really even scratching the surface. I think he’s got tremendous makeup, and that’s a big __ I think that’s going to be a big accelerator for ultimately how good a player he becomes, and I think he has that. He’s got great size and great length, and he’s a sponge.”
Those players could help Steven Adams emerge as a star. On a team that didn’t look for him often, Adams averaged 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds last season while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field.
“He’s taken small steps forward every season he’s been here,” Presti said. “I would expect him to do the same next season, and maybe there’s some things that — obviously that would be significant changes, like our two best players are not on the team.”
Notes: Presti said he expects forward Andre Roberson to be ready for the start of next season after missing the last 1 ½ seasons with a left knee injury. Roberson was one of the league’s best perimeter defenders before his injury.
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