Sam Presti often gets a lot of credit for being a stats savvy GM. Certainly the Oklahoma City Thunder are frequently heralded as a model team. They fit so many narratives. They show why tanking works. They show how building through the draft is the right way to go. They show how a GM with a plan can mold a team for success. Except, I think most of that is a lie. In fact, we’ve discussed this at length before:
I’d argue that the Thunder and Sam Presti are a pretty standard NBA team.
The Thunder’s two most expensive contracts are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In fact, until the NBA listened to an appeal from Durant and agreed to give him a raise, Westbrook was the most expensive player on the team. Now, Durant is worth every penny. The NBA rules, even including their raise, prevent Durant from getting full value. But Westbrook gives us a perfect control group. Could the Thunder distinguish between Durant and an overrated scorer? I’d argue no. Is Westbrook a good player? Sure. But is he worth a max contract? Heck no! The fact that the Thunder had Durant, Westbrook, and Harden and chose Westbrook is pretty telling.
Count da Ringz!
One argument that comes up frequently is a player’s championship pedigree. Players like Kobe HAVE to be good because they have won titles. And as we know, winning in the finals is the most important place to win. So these players must be the best. Right? I hope my incredulity is apparent. The Thunder traded for Kendrick Perkins. At one point he was a good player. Sadly, injuries have kept him from being productive. That didn’t stop the Thunder from signing him to a four year $50 million dollar contract. Now, Perkins’ stats no longer merited such a deal, but hey he had a ring, right? And the Thunder have now signed Derek Fisher yet again! This was a silly signing a year ago and it’s only gotten worse! What value does Fisher bring? Well, he has a lot of rings. Being more impressed with jewelry than stats is more indicative of being a casual fan than a “savvy NBA front office”.
Who to play? Dart board!
Now, signing players like Fisher and Perkins is bad enough. What makes it worse is the team has had better players. Take Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison. All three of these players have been very productive for years. Yet, they’ve split their minutes with players like Perkins, Fisher, and Kevin Martin. Kevin Martin was actually a pretty good player. But Sefolosha was actually more productive. Now, it’s questionable how much we can blame the front office for this. Coaches actively disregarding front office mandates is something I’m familiar with. However, it certainly doesn’t help the notion that the Thunder “do things right.”
We’re swayed by results. It’s hard not to be. The Thunder have won 50 plus games for the last four seasons. They’ve won their division the last three seasons. Last season the won the West and may have been hampered by injuries in the playoffs. This seems fantastic. But imagine an alternative reality. Imagine a reality where the Thunder don’t overpay for Westbrook and Perkins. Imagine a world where they play the right players. Maybe their win totals are even higher. Maybe they get even further in the playoffs! It’s not an easy way to think. But as a Thunder fan if you pull off the rose colored glasses, it’s possible your excitement over your excellent team could turn to anger over a lost dynasty opportunity.