How's Oklahoma City

NBA - The Oklahoma City Thunder are initiating the rebuild with full force: How OKC wants to copy a successful model

The Chris Paul era with the Oklahoma City Thunder is over after only one year. Just like those of Dennis Schröder, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams. General Manager Sam Presti initiated the complete rebuild in the offseason with a sweeping blow. He hopes it will go as well as it did on the first try.

"We want to initiate a process and set a plan in motion that will result in long-term success." This quote is now more than 13 years old. It comes from the mouth of Sam Presti from his inaugural press conference as General Manager of Seattle SuperSonics in June 2007.

The then 30-year-old and thus by far the youngest GM in the league prepared the fans for a few difficult years that the franchise would face. The "process" initiated by Presti provided for a complete reorganization. Or to put it another way: a lot of defeats.

After a few weeks in office, Presti made his announcements true, he shipped Ray Allen (to Boston) and Rashard Lewis (to Orlando) - the two best scorers of the previous season - and secured a certain Kevin Durant in the draft in second place. The team rushed into the table basement to build a new future. After seasons with 35 and 31 wins, Presti took over in 2007 was followed by a 20-win and a 23-win season.

In Oklahoma City, where the Thunder pitched their tents from 2008, the motto "Trust The Process" was always preached internally on the initially rocky road, as described by Sam Anderson in his book "Boomtown". Years before the Philadelphia 76ers fans chanted that exclamation at the Wells Fargo Center, before their center changed its name on social media to Joel "The Process" Embiid, and before Sam Hinkie was proclaimed the martyr of the protracted rebuild of the Sixers.

NBA - The Story of the Oklahoma City Thunder: From franchise heist to unfinished title contender

Oklahoma City Thunder: The Bountiful Harvest of the First Rebuild

The Sixers are still waiting today to reap the rewards of the rigorous rebuild. When he took office in 2013, Hinkie certainly hoped for a similar yield as that of the Thunder. Their rebuild was rewarded in the form of KD, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka as well as the rise to the powerhouse of the Western Conference - even if the fans in Seattle no longer saw it firsthand after the franchise moved. At least one finals participation and several trips to the West Finals were recorded for OKC, but the big hit in the form of a championship did not materialize.

When KD left for the Golden State Warriors in 2016, the construct in OKC began to crumble, James Harden had been doing his own thing in Houston for a long time. Westbrook could not, alone or with the help of Paul George, replicate the success of previous years. And then everything happened very quickly in the summer of 2019.

PG-13 gave up its "unfinished business" in Oklahoma City, which was declared when it was renewed the previous year, to hunt for the title with Kawhi Leonard in L.A. Then the Thunder also traded franchise icon Westbrook, the immediate rebuild prevented the surprisingly strong season of Paul, Schröder, Gallinari and Adams.

There will be no further attempt with this quartet in OKC. "The loss of future value that we would give up for a small chance to copy this achievement is not worth it," Presti said in an interview with Tuesday The Oklahoman. "It was clear that the most objective way is to prioritize the future."

Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the new showpiece

In an offseason in which the West has become stronger on many fronts, Presti decided to take the opposite direction, the one towards the bottom of the table. Within 24 hours, GM arranged a trade for Dennis Schröder with the Lakers and a deal that brought Chris Paul to the Phoenix Suns. He let Gallinari go by sign-and-trade and gave Adams to the New Orleans Pelicans.

"Certainly there was a lot to juggle," said Presti after a total of ten trades in which almost half the league was involved. Four of the five starters from the 2019/20 season and thus four of the team's five best scorers will put on a different shirt in the coming season. Hamidou Diallo, who came to OKC in the 2018 draft, is now the player with the longest Thunder history in the squad.

Otherwise, mainly Shai Gilgeous-Alexander remained. The 22-year-old joined Thunder last year as part of the George trade and could emerge as the main prize of the deal in a few years. At the side of CP3, the Canadian learned a few tricks and conjured up a strong season on the floor.

SGA only showed weaknesses in the bubble, but that was by no means a cause for concern. The point guard received the keys to the franchise in the offseason and will be allowed to develop in peace. At first there is no pressure to succeed in OKC. The focus in the near future will be on the draft lottery.

Thunder collect picks: Not five, not six, not seven ...

From Thunder’s point of view, this is urgently needed in order to keep track of all the draft capital. In the past weeks and years, GM Presti has accumulated a total of up to 17 first and 13 second round picks by 2027 with its trades. OKC is not only hoping for its own ping-pong balls, of which there will probably be some thanks to the upheaval in the coming year, but also for those of the Rockets or Clippers and that one of the two teams will take a wrong turn in its development.

There may be even more future picks if OKC finds buyers for George Hill (34), Trevor Ariza (35) or Al Horford (34) during the season. All three came in different deals this offseason, but don't fit into the long-term plans due to their age.

Until then, the trio should support the young talents in the squad wherever possible. Because of the prevailing organizational culture in Oklahoma City, it is rather unlikely that they will go wrong. Most recently, Schröder also praised the openness and honesty of Presti, who apparently looks for deals in close consultation with his stars that fit all sides. He will certainly do the same with Hill, Ariza and Horford.

NBA: The future first round picks of the Thunder through 2027

yearFirst round picks
2021Own + the better pick from the Heat or Rockets + Warriors (Top20 protected)
2022Own (if it ends up in the Lottery, otherwise to Atlanta) + Clippers + Suns (Top12 protected)
2023Own (or pick-swap with the clippers) + Heat (Top14-protected), nuggets (Top14-protected)
2024Own + Clippers + Rockets (Top4 protected)
2025Own (or pick-swap with the Clippers or Rockets) + Sixers
2026Own + Rockets (Top4 protected) + Clippers

Oklahoma City Thunder and the Process 2.0

In addition to SGA, the next season the young talents around the only 18-year-old project Aleksej Pokusevski, Ty Jerome, T.J. Leaf, Lu Dort or Darius Bazley can let off steam on the floor. That alone sounds like a high pick in the highly interesting draft 2021.

They have proven in the past that Presti and its front office have an eye for special talents. In the years to come, you will have numerous opportunities to emphasize this. Of course, not every draft pick will bring a high return, as the Sixers, among others, know that only too well.

At the same time, the Thunders will not use their entire draft capital themselves, rather the many picks represent valuable trade chips that may lead a seasoned star to the side of SGA and a future top prospect in a year or two. Presti has a number of options; it will take a while before he has to decide which one to use.

Until then, there are a lot of bankruptcies waiting for the Thunder fans, who also had to say goodbye to fan favorite Adams in the offseason. "That wasn't my best day at work, I can tell you that," said Presti when asked about the New Zealander's trade with the Pelicans.

"But I am relentlessly and passionately striving to build a bright future for this organization. If you feel too comfortable with it, then I don't know if you are really doing something that makes a difference," added Presti. It can be understood as a renewed attunement to a few difficult sporting years in Oklahoma City. Very similar to 13 years ago. The way is clear for Process 2.0.