Hitting the ground running
New GM Presti wasting no time overhauling Sonics
Posted: Wednesday July 11, 2007 6:32PM; Updated: Wednesday July 11, 2007 7:19PM
LAS VEGAS -- His former colleagues with the San Antonio Spurs were celebrating their third title in five years, pouring the champagne and toasting their championship like it was New Year's Eve. In the meantime, Sam Presti was trapped in his new office in Seattle.
Since leaving his job as Spurs vice president and assistant general manager on June 7 to become the Seattle SuperSonics' GM, Presti has been consumed with hiring a coach, reordering his front office and reinventing his roster around No. 2 pick Kevin Durant and a blockbuster draft-day trade of Ray Allen -- all in the space of a month.
"I watched a few minutes of the third quarter of Game 3,'' Presti said of the NBA Finals. While his friends were concluding their four-game sweep of the Cavaliers in Cleveland, Presti was studying midseason video of the Sonics' 31-win season.
"My responsibility is to Seattle and I really invested myself into the job,'' he said, "although I was very aware of what was going on [in the NBA Finals]. It's just that my responsibility lay elsewhere.''
Presti, 30, was raised in Concord, Mass., and graduated from Division III Emerson College, where he was a shooting guard. He took over the Sonics less than seven years after the Spurs launched his career as a $250-per-month intern. Within a year, he had helped persuade his bosses to gamble their 2001 first-rounder on French point guard Tony Parker, who became Finals MVP last month while Presti was being introduced as the NBA's answer to Theo Epstein.
The Red Sox GM is a fellow Bostonian who was 30 when he constructed the 2004 World Series champion. But while Epstein was endowed with an expensive roster of veterans expected to win immediately, Presti was handed a young Sonics team that had missed the playoffs four of the last five years.
No executive has had a busier month than Presti, a terse interviewee who prefers to let his actions speak for him. Here's a breakdown of his myriad moves and what they say about the Sonics' future:
Traded Allen and a second-round pick to Boston for Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and No. 5 pick Jeff Green.
Mark this down as an excellent move for both teams. Allen will give All-Star production to the callow Celtics, who needed leadership far more than another young draft pick. The Sonics get a wing player in Green who will complement -- rather than compete for shots with -- Durant. Green is a versatile playmaker who will take pride in helping Durant flourish, which embodies Presti's team-first priority.
The sexier pick here would have been enigmatic Chinese forward Yi Jianlian (taken No. 6 by the Milwaukee Bucks, against the wishes of Yi's agent Dan Fegan), who is rated by some NBA scouts as a future star and by others as the second coming of Nikoloz Tskitishvili. While other executives might have swung for the fences at the risk of striking out with the No. 5 pick, Presti played this like an elder GM unwilling to gamble. Given his short preparation time for the draft, it made sense to select a sure thing. Green is a well-coached team player from a winning program who will take pride in complementing Durant. For those of you keeping score at home, credit the choice of Green as a clean double into the gap.
Lewis left Seattle for a six-year max contract with the Orlando Magic.
Presti was willing to let Lewis go in exchange for payroll flexibility, and he ensured that by working a sign-and-trade with Orlando that netted the Sonics a trade exception and a conditional second-round pick. Like the Spurs and Pistons -- the dominant franchises of the luxury-tax era -- Presti's refusal to outbid Orlando is hard proof that he will insist on payroll discipline going forward. The departures of Allen and Lewis signal that the Sonics aren't going to expend big money on their payroll until Durant (who turns 19 in September) and his teammates have matured into a deep-playoff contender.
Hired P.J. Carlesimo as head coach.
Carlesimo is a teacher who will upgrade the defense of what has been one of the league's most porous teams. His five years as Gregg Popovich's assistant in San Antonio have schooled him in building a program and in developing relationships that will enable him to push the players hard. The big question is whether Carlesimo can put those Spurs theories into practice while overcoming his identity as Latrell Sprewell's victim. Presti thinks he can.
The next two years threaten a maelstrom in Seattle, as Presti remolds the roster, Carlesimo emphasizes defense and owner Clay Bennett decides whether to move the franchise to Oklahoma City. But Presti views tumult as opportunity -- a test for discovering which players and colleagues can maintain their focus on the long-term goal of building a championship program.
"I believe firmly in the essence of team and all that comes with that,'' he said. "We need to ensure that we're all pulling on the same end of the rope.''