OKLAHOMA CITY — Speaking publicly for the first time since trading stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti expressed appreciation for both players, but he also disagreed with George’s claim that the decision to deal him was “mutual.”
“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 offseason priority list.
“But I would say that it was not adversarial at all, and I also fully respect the way that it was handled. And the fact that we were able to make it work in a way that benefited the franchise made it something that we could do.”
At his introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, George said the trade process between him and the Thunder was collaborative, with the two sides working “hand in hand” and that it was a “mutual thing between both of us that the time was up and we both had ideas of doing things differently.”
George requested a trade from the Thunder a few days into free agency, with the Clippers his preferred destination to go in tandem with Kawhi Leonard, who recruited George to join him.
“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,” Presti said. “But I feel really good about the fact that we were able to make it work for everybody and figure out a solution, because based on just looking down the runway, we were probably going to be faced with that scenario probably after the following season. He would have had one year left on his contract at that point in time, and although we may have had more time to plan, I don’t think we were going to be in a position to be able to recoup the value that we were able to in that particular situation.”
The Thunder obliged George on the condition they could find an agreeable trade return, which resulted in an unprecedented haul of five future first-round picks, as well as Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“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,” Presti said when asked if he considered denying George’s trade request.
“It wasn’t necessarily permission. It was, ‘How can we make this work for everyone?’ And the reality is, we’ve seen these situations in other cities. I just don’t think for us, we can take that risk, given the lengths that we had gone to to try to keep the run that we started in 2008 together. One more year without everybody being totally on board, knowing that we could be faced with the exact same situation — from a business perspective, from a practical perspective, it would be irresponsible not to look at that opportunity. And it worked out.”
As a result of moving George, the Thunder transitioned to working on an agreeable outcome for Westbrook, with the favored solution being a trade to the Houston Rockets.
“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. But to answer your question, you sit down, where are we going from here, where are you with things right now, and I think he and the organization came to the same conclusion, that hey, if there’s something that makes sense for everybody, then we’ll look at that for sure. And we were fortunate that it worked out the way it did.”
The Thunder added more future draft compensation as well as Chris Paul in trading Westbrook to Houston. With speculation about Paul’s future in OKC percolating, Presti said the plan is to move forward into the season with him as the Thunder’s point guard.
“I can’t give you a forecast on how many years or anything like that, especially after … some of this transition we’re going through right now,” Presti said. “But I would say that we’re excited about having him here. He’s excited about the opportunity here. And I think he has an opportunity to really impact the team in a positive way. What happens two or three years from now, again, I hate to keep coming back to this, but what used to be five years in the NBA has become like five months in the NBA or two years in the NBA. I mean, predicting anything beyond two hours in the NBA is what it’s kind of become and evolved to. I don’t know the answer to that.
“But I do know that I think he’s going to have a really good year for us, and I do think he’s excited about the opportunity to have an impact on the team.”.
Oklahoma City was 49-33 last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs. There was a recent report mentioning “discontent” among Westbrook and George, which may have contributed to their trade situations. Presti said he was unclear on how to categorize the reported discontent.
“I just could tell you this: I don’t know how many people in the NBA are contented at the end of a season,” he said. “I don’t know what the discontent is referring to. I don’t know if it was pancakes not fluffy enough or we’re not winning enough games. You’re not giving me anything to really work with.
“All I can tell you is those guys are great guys. … When you don’t reach the potential that you think you have as a team, there’s going to be frustration, of course. But I think all systems were go going into the season, and we were excited about it, but that’s just not the path that it took. I feel really good about the way that we were able to handle that from that point.”