Trade demands caught Thunder off-guard

By Michael Kinney

After an offseason that saw the Oklahoma City Thunder shocked its fan base and the rest of the NBA with a series of epic trades and deal, general manager Sam Presti finally addressed the public Thursday when he met with the local media.

During his 37 minutes press conference, Presti made one thing perfectly clear. The path the team is currently on now was not one they had expected to see when the season ended.

“We were excited about heading into the season with some of the additions that we made,” Presti said. “But shortly after free agency began, things changed a little bit. The players have the freedom to be able to talk and recruit, and there’s nothing limiting that, and that obviously changed the game for us.”

What changed for the Thunder was Paul George coming to Presti and asking for a trade days after free agency started and weeks after the draft. That led to Oklahoma City also trading Jerami Grant and the franchise cornerstone Russell Westbrook in the following days. In return, they received eight first-round picks, Chris Paul Danilo Gallinari and second-year point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

George described his decision to leave the Thunder as something he and the franchise both wanted.

“This was nothing that came out of the blue; we were all on the same page,” George told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on Wednesday. “The initial plan was to give it another year, see what we could do and I did that. We played another year and it felt like we were just stagnant. Next thing was, let’s move forward with other plans”

However, Presti provided a little pushback on George’s explanation.

“I think the world of PG. I think everybody knows that,” Presti said. “I know that he had used the term mutual. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that because that would infer that we were wanting to trade Paul George, which I think most people would agree that that probably wasn’t on the top of our off-season priority list. But I would say that it was not adversarial at all, and I also fully respect the way that it was handled.”

Presti was asked if he could have just said no to George’s trade demand, especially since he believed Oklahoma City had the chance to have a very good 2019-20 season.

“The reason that we were able to find a way to do it was because of what we were able to get back,” Presti said. “I wouldn’t say that we were going to appease the request simply because it was made, but more than anything, it was because of the fact that we were able to get the return that we did, which then allowed us to accommodate what he was looking for, as well. So yeah, no, it wasn’t necessarily permission. It was how can we make this work for everyone.”

When it came to trading Russell Westbrook, Presti wanted to make sure he did right by his former star point guard as well.

“I would say the same thing. How do we make it work for everybody? Obviously, Houston was the place he wanted to go, and we were able to find a way to accomplish our goals and his,” Presti said. “If we couldn’t accomplish our goals we wouldn’t have traded him to Houston, but we were able to find a way to communicate through that process to get that to happen.”

Going forward, Presti doesn’t call what the Thunder are doing a rebuild. But even with Paul and Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander joining what is left of the Oklahoma City roster, he is asking for patience from the fans.

“I think our focus right now is on the team that we have. It’s going to be a different iteration of Thunder team than we’ve seen over the last several years,” Presti said. “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.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

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