OKLAHOMA CITY- For the second consecutive offseason, Sam Presti traded away a superstar in the dead of the night.
A season ago, Presti altered the landscape of the NBA.
Presti began to hack away at the core of the Thunder he had built, shipping Paul George to Los Angeles for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a treasure trove of first round draft picks.
The 2019-20 would later be dubbed a season of “repositioning” and “replenishing” by Presti, who would go on to trade Oklahoma City’s favorite son Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and more future draft assets.
While the Thunder were no longer title contenders, the team was talented enough to delay thoughts of tanking and earn the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Presti had crafted a team of grizzled veterans and fresh faces to the league, and allowed the group to gel and grow over the course of the NBA season.
A week ago, Presti ensured this season would not go down a similar path.
Once again moving in the shadows, fan favorite Steven Adams was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, yet again netting more future draft picks for Oklahoma City.
“That was a really really challenging and difficult decision for us to make,” Presti said on Monday in his first media availability since draft night.
Moving on from Adams marked the final act of the first chapter of Thunder history.
With his contract expiring at the end of this season, it is unclear whether Adams would have stuck around Oklahoma City to ride out a rebuild.
“Where we’re transitioning to as an organization… After 12 years of high performance, it would probably be a little bit of denial to think that at some point after that amount of time, especially after the summer of 2016, we wouldn’t have to transition our team,” Presti said.
“Transitioning at some point is going to be a necessity.”
Adams represents the perfect bookend for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Acquired as a part of the James Harden trade, Adams dedicated seven years to Oklahoma City, developing not only as a reliable piece on the court, but as a fan favorite off it.
But as ingrained as Adams has become in Oklahoma City’s basketball culture, the time had come to part ways.
Expectations of the Thunder making the playoffs year in and year out are on hold for now. The keys to the franchise are about to be turned over to the young core of Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley and Lugeuntz Dort.
Rookie coach Mark Daigneault is now in charge of developing a roster to compete in three to four years, not the short term.
The timelines for both the Thunder and Adams no longer aligned, and a trade was the path that made the most sense.
“We have high goals and high aspirations to one day have another long run of high performance over consecutive years,” Presti said. “Unless we were to lower our expectations… making these types of decisions are part of that process.”
In the end, both parties got what they wanted.
Adams was able to sign a two-year extension, providing stability before taking on a new challenge in New Orleans. Presti was able to get draft compensation for an expiring contract, which will net the core of the next generation of Thunder basketball.
Though delayed a year by an unexpected playoff run, the rebuild has finally arrived in Oklahoma City, and Adams is the last relic of a different era of Thunder basketball.
“He’s left a tremendous mark on our franchise and we’re very grateful,” Presti said. “But ultimately, we have to put the Thunder first.”
“It wasn’t my best day of work, I can tell you that.”