Q & A With Thunder General Manager Sam Presti

This is one of the busiest times of the year for NBA executives.

With the NBA Draft around the corner and NBA Summer League and impending free agency looming, there’s much to be done.

Amidst it all, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti took time out of his schedule to talk to THUNDER.NBA.COM about the draft process.

How would you best describe the past month from the Draft Lottery to now?
“The Lottery was big for us because it gave us some clarity as to where we’d be picking. And from there we started to work on narrowing the groups down and identifying parts of the draft where there might be value. What follows is a series of workouts and interviews to continue the information gathering. It’s the same process that’s going on with every team at this time of the year.”

Of the hundreds of draft-eligible players available, how do you narrow your list to a group of players you’ll be looking at with the No. 3 pick?
“I think that every team, as they approach the draft, are looking for something different, something that aligns with who they are. Teams narrow their boards down based on the qualities they look for in players. We start by trying to pool as many players as we can, and we try to reduce the group by looking for the kind of players and people that fit what we are about. I think if you look at all 30 draft boards in the NBA, today, they’re all going to be different. That is the essence of the draft in my opinion.”

Much has been made about the No. 3 pick. But what’s your approach with the No. 25 pick?
“The approach remains the same – looking to see if we can add somebody to our team and our organization that we feel has an opportunity to grow with our team. We want to be as thorough with that pick as we are going to try to be with the third pick. When that selection comes up, we’re hopeful there will be some people on the board that we value. You don’t really have a feel for what might be there at 25 until the draft really gets moving and things start falling into place, or sometimes, out of place depending on your perspective.”

It must be interesting to have to deal with the rumor mills and blogs around this time of year. Do you pay attention to that stuff and do they affect the team in any way?
“Well, you know it’s part of the business and we understand that people have a job to do. Sometimes that’s part of the industry that we work in, there is competition for those covering the teams as well. We can’t control it, so we accept the fact that there will be a fair share of misinformation presented, and we know that on draft night the weeks of speculation wilt away. They have no permanence so you have to keep perspective. In terms of if we factor it into our process, we simply can’t. It is all part of the draft experience and makes it fun for the fans. As a team, we have to make decisions based on realities and organizational disciplines. We are no different than any other industry in that respect.”

How involved are you with the actual player evaluation?
“I’m evaluating players throughout the year and scouting myself, but I really listen to and trust our staff. I think we’ve got a great group of guys who lead our draft preparation. Troy Weaver and Rob Hennigan do a great job for us in terms of organizing the process, evaluating players and getting us prepared. Rich Cho does a great job from a strategic planning standpoint, so we have good people, they work hard and they are invested in the vision for the Thunder. That makes my job a lot of fun, I not only respect these guys for their skill and professionalism, but I like being around them and learning from them.”

Did you have time to watch the NBA Finals?
“Yes. It’s such an exciting time for our league and just fans of basketball in general. It was an exciting Playoffs and certainly some great teams were competing at very high levels. It just speaks to the quality of the NBA and the quality of the league as a whole.”

What should Thunder fans know about the draft itself and this time of the year with free agency around the corner?
“We’re trying to work as hard as we can and be prepared to make decisions that we think will be helpful for us as we build a team that can sustain itself. We’re a big-picture organization and we’re going to continue to be disciplined with our decisions. Just because we’ve achieved a certain level of flexibility or have a few assets doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to spend frivolously or be overly aggressive out of restlessness and external expectation. Decisions in the NBA follow you, and each one you make limits options that may present themselves in the future. We like how we are positioned and feel that we have room to grow. Sometimes you have to let that take place and be selective about next steps even if it is not the most exciting decision at the time. We have had a good start with our off-season development plans, we have had guys in our facility working hard, and Scott and his staff have also been on the road to visit our players. Scott has placed a big emphasis on development, and accountability to individual improvement, so our organic growth is another thing we are looking to as a way to move the team forward.”

Roughly how many hours go into the draft process?
“It’s really hard to estimate that, but every team works incredibly hard at this. Again, every team looks at it a little different in terms of what they value in players and who they may covet based on how the process is set up. The scouts, the people that are in charge of the draft, work incredibly hard for their teams and it’s a real labor of love for those guys because it takes a lot of time and a lot of frequent flier miles. Ultimately the work that they do at the beginning of the year and during the season really culminates on the night of the 25th when you actually make a selection. That’s a part of the organization that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention but we really value what they do greatly.”

What’s been the most challenging part of this time of the year for you?
“I think time management is a big part of what we’re challenged with each day right now because you’ve got workouts, meetings, you’re watching film, talking to agents, and talking to other teams. We want to focus on staying the course with the plan for our prep so that when the 25th does come around, we feel like we are prepared and ready to make the best decision we can with the information we have at that point in time.”

How would you compare this year’s to previous years’ drafts in terms of teams wanting to move within the draft?
“Every year is different in terms of the draft and you don’t really know a lot of things until things get a little closer and people get a little more definition. I think that drafts change and the climate around each draft changes a little bit, but ultimately teams are looking to improve and by draft day are eager to move around to get what they see as value for their teams. For the amount of trades that are done, there are a significant amount that never get past the first stage.”

Contact Chris Silva