Sam Presti Talks About The Harden Trade
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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With the start of the regular season just a few days away the Oklahoma City Thunder made a major trade, sending James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Layzard Hayward to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick. Thunder general manager Sam Presti met with the media on Sunday to discuss the shocking deal that nobody saw coming, how the new pieces fit in and more.
How it got to a point where a deal needed to be made
“In respect to our conversations with James Harden, I think it’s pretty well documented that those conversations began in July, we worked incredibly hard at that and put our best foot forward for that. I think we’re pretty transparent, we didn’t know exactly what the end game would be, we knew that there was mutual interest in trying to find a common ground. But at the end of the day, we unfortunately weren’t able to meet. Through that process, our ownership group was nothing short of spectacular, I want to emphasize that. They put us in a position to make several substantial, they’ve supported our players, they’ve supported our staff in every way imaginable and this was no different than any other situation that we’ve been in with this group.
“The culmination of this decision to move forward, we got to a point where we were pretty transparent, very direct as we are with all our players in this situation. As a fact, we reached a point where we had to make a decision, we made a final proposal on Friday morning that was unacceptable, we then came back to where we were beginning to execute a trade, initiation with another proposal. We were very transparent with James that if this was not acceptable, then we would have to move towards making the best decision for the franchise, given the fact that it was becoming a reality that more than likely, he would be signing elsewhere after the season. Once that reality was met, as we have in the past, this organization turned a page. We started to focus on what’s in the best interest to the program and focus on capitalizing on an opportunity that would help us both in the short term and also continue to strengthen the future of the Thunder organization and building this program in a sustainable fashion.”
The difference between the two sides
“I think if I answer that question, it probably digs into the details more then I would like with respect to the negotiations themselves. What I can say, from my point of view, simply my point of view, I know we made several efforts to try and make this work and I think there is a point in every negotiation where you start to realize where things lie and and I feel like as an organization, we’ve made some tough decisions, this one was right up there with them. But as I said before, once you know the landscape, you have to look at everything and ultimately make the decision that you think is best for the franchise.”
“I value my relationship with James and I do with all the players that we have here, because once they walk through the doors of the Thunder, they’re going to leave an impact on the fabric of this program, one way or another. It’s been a great thing for us to watch James grow as a player and as a professional. It was a difficult situation because I didn’t think the day would come to the reality that it wasn’t going to work out and we weren’t going to be able to meet the expectations, but it doesn’t change how we feel about James Harden. We wish him the best and any relationships that he has here will live on, but once that was established we had to do what was best for the organization. In response to your question about were we able to talk to him, James and I have had several conversations over the years about things other than basketball, so I enjoyed a pretty good relationship with him and we did talk.
“The details of that conversation was between me and him and I ask that you respect that, but James was the first draft pick in the history of this franchise and a guy that we have an immense amount of respect for. At the same time, we have to do the right thing for the program, but we always want to be transparent and upfront with our players, make sure they understand where we are with things and also expect the same out of them and I feel I wanted to provide a forum for that and also share somethings with James about how I felt about him, how we felt about him and I feel that was an important conversation to have, but ultimately he went a different direction. But for us as an organization, we wish him the best he’s been important to our success and by no means to we regret the situation.”
The coaching staff’s reaction
“They’re pretty excited about having Kevin Martin on the team and they know him very well on a personal level, but also on a basketball level as well and I think that’s going to be important for us but when you make these decisions for us, we’re not doing it haphazardly. We’re going to try and think it through the best that we can and as I said before, we’re going to try to balance the objective of franchise short and longterm and we feel like with this particular transaction we’re addressing some needs. We’re also positioning ourselves moving forward with flexibility and we’re making decisions based on the reality we face and also the realities of the new CBA.”
Thoughts on the new players
“I think about adding Jeremy and Kevin to this group and it’s exciting to me, it’s very exciting to me. I think those guys add to what it is we have in place and what we have in place is a group of very competitive people and last night, as I was wrapping up the end of the trade and the things that have to happen, I also looked out my window and Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka were in here, working individually with our coaching staff on separate baskets and I thought about that we were adding two qualities players to a group of guys who are really invested with what it is that we’re trying to do here and take a lot of pride with playing with the Thunder.
“Kevin, as most of you know, is one of the most proficient offensive players in the NBA over the last several years. He’s a guy that draws fouls at a high rate, he’s a guy that has a great feel for the game, understands how to score knows the league. Our coaching staff has some history with him and knows him intimately, obviously they have a better understanding of him and the things they can do with him and they’re very confident and excited about having him.
“Jeremy Lamb is a prospect in our eyes and at only 20 years old has a chance to be very good in this league. We’ve spent a lot of time talking with Kevin Ollie, who were still very close with up at UConn and Kevin had wonderful things to say about this young man, coached him, stayed in contact with him and Kevin understands our environment, Kevin understands what we’re trying to establish and he thinks Jeremy can excel. How much will he play, all those things are obviously questions for Scotty [Brooks] but we compare adding Jeremy Lamb to Perry Jones and Reggie Jackson we feel adding these younger players to our program, and I say young, comparatively speaking, to the core that we have with Serge and Russell, who are only 24 years old themselves, but as I said we have to build this program for sustainability and feel like adding a player like Jeremy is going to add to the future as well.
“Our scouting staff does an excellent job and one of the things that really intrigues us with Jeremy is that he’s got great length. He is a very smooth athlete that’s getting a lot done. It’s just easy for him, the way it looks. He’s giving you maximal effort but he’s very graceful. I think the other thing about him that’s really intriguing is his skill level. At that size, he can do a myriad of things with the ball and he’s a very, very gifted offensive player as a passer, as a scorer and playmaker so he’ll be a work in progress and we’ve gone down this path before. Player development is a holistic effort on the part of our organization and it’s going to be critically important to our sustainability moving forward. He’s another player that we’re going to invest in as we’re going to do the same with Perry [Jones III] and we have with Reggie [Jackson]. We want to establish ourselves as a place where players get better and with our coaching staff I feel like we’re on our way.”
How the changes affect the team
“I think one of the things in sports in general that is tricky is when there are changes, sometimes we get fixated on trying to replicate things. I think we’ll be different. I think we’ll look a little different but I don’t know that I would anticipate. I think we’ve got to let it play out a bit. Clearly, James is a very talented player. If he wasn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to get Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and several very valuable draft picks back but that is one the things I think our coaching staff has done a great job with is maximizing group understanding of skill sets and traits with particular players and putting them in a position to be successful.
“I think Kevin Martin, he’s a guy that is very versatile in terms of not necessarily needing the ball all the time to create plays. I think that, as with other teams, when there are changes, other people emerge and I’m looking forward to seeing development and different pieces of our roster. I think you have to think back and reflect that James really came into his own once we made a significant change to the roster with Jeff. Same can be said for Serge. I’m excited to see how our group responds, but with the maturity of Russell and Kevin and the way that they’re impacting our team on and off the floor right now, I’m confident in the guys.”
The value of the draft picks
“The draft choices are very valuable to us as a franchise because of the fact that we primarily build our teams through the draft and we feel like, again, that’s going to be an important factor to built and adapt to on the roster given the significance of the new CBA and the stringent nature of rules moving forward, not only for Oklahoma City but for everyone in general so like I said before, when you make a decision like this, you think it through on a lot of different levels. There’s no perfect solution. If there was, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now, but I do think that those draft choices potentially could add depth to a team at a point in time where we’ll be challenged to continually add young talent that can grow with the program.”
Plan with the two open roster spots created by the trade
“It’s something we need to determine and we’re going to let the dust settle here a little bit and then we’ll make that decision. I’ve have a visit with the front office guys and obviously talk to Scott and decide what we want to do there.”
Eric Maynor’s status
“We’ve had positive dialogue with Eric and he’s a guy that means a lot to this ball club. We value him. He’s continually gaining more confidence coming back from injury and looks fantastic. Whether or not we’ll ultimately do anything with him and in terms of extension is not a reflection of his wanting to be here or our wanting to keep him in the program. I think that it just may be better for us to see how things develop throughout the season for him, as well. I think he has to see that as well but I think everybody knows that Eric’s a guy that I think.. I’d like to have first dibs on him when he’s done because I think he’ll be a great coach. That’s far down the line but he’s got a great basketball mind. He’s got a great demeanor. He’s a great communicator and I really do think that he appreciates being with this organization and that goes a long way here.”
HOOPSWORLD’s Susan Bible also contributed to this report.