OKLAHOMA CITY — When the Thunder announced last night that general manager Sam Presti would have a press conference the following morning, a few thoughts went through my head.
First, the timing. It seemed way too convenient for the Thunder to schedule a press conference less than 24 hours after the Los Angeles Clippers publicly introduced Kawhi Leonard and now-former OKC player Paul George. Not that it wasn’t needed. This would mark the first time Presti would speak to the media since late-June’s NBA draft.
The second thought was how Presti and the Thunder would try and get out in front of a story suddenly out of their control. George has been a Clipper for over three weeks now. But with George describing how his time had, “run out,” and that the parting of ways between he and OKC was, “mutual,” the Thunder had to act.
Presti did not disappoint.
“I know that he had used the term mutual,” Presti said. “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.”
There you have it. An old fashioned he-said-she-said between a player and his former general manager. But don’t expect any more war of words — if it can even be called that. George is happy and Presti and OKC have to continue on.
Still, this is a problem. Players under contract are forcing their franchise’s hand. While cities like LA or New York can survive years, and in some cases decades of catastrophe, small markets cannot. The mood of many of Presti’s answers concerning George or player-to-player tampering seemed tense and annoyed. It is really hard to blame him. Player-to-player tampering has affected the Thunder many times in its 11-year history.
“The only thing I would say is that there’s nothing that prevents that from taking place,” Presti said. “If there’s nothing to prevent it from taking place, then I don’t see a way or the reason why we should be up in arms about it.”
Presti would go on to say that three more times in his 45-minute availability. It gave the impression that while there are no rules in place that prevent these occurrences from happening, the Thunder are not happy about it.
Yes, OKC has a lot of hope moving forward. They have more draft picks than Kevin Durant had excuses for leaving Oklahoma City. There is optimism for the road ahead. But it was a road that Presti did not expect to be on in 2019. They are forced to make the best out of a bad situation.
“I was excited about the year,” Presti said. “Especially with some of the additions we made, but we could have been faced with looking at this, especially from a financial standpoint, how much longer are we going to be able to sustain that payroll with those types of contracts on the books going forward. We might be looking at the same exact situation but without the opportunity to proactively kind of generate this path or these dual paths that we’ve tried to create out of the situation in July.”
This is not unique to OKC, it has just bit them more than most successful small markets in recent history. Toronto won a title and Leonard left. Durant won two titles and was a calf injury away from potentially winning a third but still went to Brooklyn. George deemed his remaining three years in OKC as a waste, while his second year was a “prove it” year.
Welcome to the NBA in 2019. A league where everything is made up and the success doesn’t matter. No one is safe.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12, in addition to weekly guest spots on “The Franchise Drive” on Tuesdays and “The Franchise Morning Show” on Wednesdays. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports