Tag:Sam Presti
Posted on: February 17, 2011 12:27 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2011 12:54 pm
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Should the Blazers blow it up?

rich-cho-ball CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reports that the Portland Trail Blazers could be in for an active trade deadline. Posted by Ben Golliver. 

On Wednesday, CBSSports.com's Ken Berger noted a few factors that could make the Portland Trail Blazers an important player during the 2011 trade deadline season. First, the Blazers are just over the luxury tax line and presumably looking to get under it if possible. Second, the Blazers possess a number of expiring contracts that would serve as good bargaining chips. 
Execs are monitoring the intentions of Houston, Portland and Utah -- all tax-paying teams that will be deciding whether to go deeper into the tax or pull back from it.
One exec said he believes Portland GM Rich Cho is "poised for a pretty significant 24th." Given the grim prognosis for star guard Brandon Roy and the uncertainty about what cap space will be worth under the new labor rules, Cho is seriously considering cashing in on the expiring contract of Joel Przybilla and the essentially expiring deal of Andre Miller, whose 2011-12 salary is fully non-guaranteed. Marcus Camby, who has a year left at $12.9 million, could be enticing to one of the few deep-pocketed contenders not shy about taking on future money with CBA changes looming. The Mavericks, for example, will "listen to anything," according to a source.
Cho, Portland's first-year GM, doesn't have much of a track record to date, but he previously worked under Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti, who is known for his patience, discretion and how much he values salary cap flexibility. Cho appears to be cut from the same cloth. He's developed a reputation for his analytical approach to evaluating players and has made one significant move this season, dumping reserve guard Jerryd Bayless for a conditional first round draft pick in order to shed salary and increase his flexibility.

Here are the question that Cho has been grappling with all season: Are the Blazers, who have been bounced in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs each of the past two seasons, coming or going? And if they are going, is it time to blow things up and get younger?

I won't bore you with all the surgical details, but the Blazers have a number of factors clouding their ability to properly gauge their future lot. Two are much bigger than the others.

First, and most importantly, All-Star guard Brandon Roy has yet to return from dual knee surgeries and all indications are that he will be limited to some degree by his knees going forward. The Blazers are in the first year of a 5-year, $80+ million fully-guaranteed contract with Roy. He's as untradeable as a player can be.

Second, the Blazers must make a decision regarding chronically injured center Greg Oden this summer. Most likely, that decision will involve extending him a $8 million + qualifying offer which he will likely reject so that he can weigh multi-year offers. While his market value is unclear given that he is currently rehabilitating from his second microfracture knee surgery, the Blazers have indicated they are prepared to do what it takes to keep him. Between Oden and Roy, then, the Blazers have tied up a significant portion of their salary cap.

Making things even more complicated: the remaining Blazers have managed to climb all the way up to the middle of the pack in the Western Conference playoff picture and seem a solid bet to make the playoffs as is. Getting to the post-season matters to every NBA team, but it especially matters to the Blazers. Playoff gate revenue would surely be valued but, perhaps more importantly, this is a franchise that wants to take a place on the national stage whenever it can. Located in a small-market and geographically isolated from much of the basketball viewing public, the playoffs are a matter of pride and a chance for the team to shine when it so often feels overlooked. (Look no further than the LaMarcus Aldridge All-Star snub reaction to get a sense for this sentiment.) On top of that, Blazers owner Paul Allen is competitive and looking for a return on his investment of significant resources into this group of players.

Missing the playoffs, then, would be a blow to the pride, but also a blow to the credibility of the management staff. Despite all of the injuries, the resources and talent is still there, and that's without mentioning the team's solid head coach, Nate McMillan, who's making a case for Coach of the Year consideration. There are still expectations, even if the roof has caved in and eliminated the "contender" hopes for the time being. 

Any potential trade deadline move for Portland has to be assessed from the perspective of whether it will meaningfully impact Portland's ability to make the post-season. If a potential deal carries that risk, then it better have a sweetheart reward. If a deal can be engineered that helps the finances or the team's future without compromising this year's run, then that's got to be on the table.

Assessing Portland's roster through this lens divvies the players into some fairly clear groups. Players like Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are obvious building blocks going forward. Roy and Oden are virtually impossible to move. The obvious candidates for a potential trade are point guard Andre Miller, along with centers Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla. 

While there are financial arguments for moving any of them, Miller, Camby and Przybilla are of varied on-court importance.

Much has been made of Aldridge's breakout season - he's been floated as a Most Improved Player candidate and has twice won Western Conference Player of the Week honors - but none of that happens without his improved relationship with Miller, who hits him not only with lob after lob but also runs an effective late-game pick-and-roll as well. Miller probably trusted in Aldridge more than Aldridge did to start the season, and it's no coincidence that his voice was the loudest to complain when Aldridge was left off the All-Star team. The relationship that never developed between Miller and Roy - the relationship former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard had hoped would make the Blazers a contender - now exists between Miller and Aldridge. 

Without question, Aldridge's now dependable production would be diminished this year if Miller is moved. The Blazers also have no other legit options capable of handling full-time point guard duties. Portland would be left, for the fourth time this season, to craft a new identity for themselves heading into the playoff stretch run. It wouldn't be impossible, but it wouldn't be particularly pleasant. It also wouldn't be all that intelligent, as the Blazers can cut and run out of Miller's contract if they find a better option this summer or he can be moved to a team next year as an expiring contract. Given his on-court value and future financial flexibility it makes far more sense to hold on to Miller than to move him, and I haven't even mentioned that his age and lack of playoff success render his external value questionable.

One of the most intriguing, under-reported wrinkles of Portland's season is that the Blazers are 10-4 since Camby underwent arthroscropic knee surgery. The Blazers have made due by using Aldridge as a center and playing more small-ball. It's certainly possible, perhaps not probable, that the Blazers could move Camby and still remain in the top eight, assuming Aldridge remains as healthy and productive as he has been since December.

The problem, of course, is the team's longer-term uncertainty at the center position. With Oden's future up in the air and Przybilla not at 100% since returning from two knee surgeries last season, Camby figures to be a fairly valuable component of a 2011-2012 Blazers team. Without him, the Blazers would be forced to either re-cast their new franchise player, Aldridge, as a center, draft a big man and be prepared to give him real minutes right off the bat, or find a random big off the scrap heap. None of those options would seem to be nearly as appetizing as making due with Camby for now and moving him during the draft or next season as an expiring contract should the center position crystallize a bit. While playoff teams looking for an extra big have expressed interest in Camby's services during a playoff run, the Blazers are interested in him for the same reason, and also because they don't have another reliable center penciled into the roster next season. He's a key locker room presence, too.

Przybilla, though, is a different story. His contract is expiring and he's not currently a critical component of the rotation, although he's filled in nicely during Camby's absence. When Camby returns, however, Przybilla reverts back to his status as a small-minute insurance piece and would likely be used sparingly in the playoffs with McMillan preferring to ride his starters. Longer-term, Przybilla's future in Portland is unclear as well, even though he's a local icon. He's simply not productive enough at this point to warrant a real financial commitment from the Blazers, given their other commitments discussed above. He is a living seven-foot tall human that can rebound so he will draw interest from around the league this summer, and he's also mentioned the possibility of retirement. Were the Blazers able to move Przybilla and receive limited contracts in return, utilizing a team's trade exception or open cap space, it's possible they could get under the luxury tax line without truly jeopardizing their rotation or playoff chances.  

Another player that was mentioned last summer but hasn't found his name in many rumors over the last month or two is guard Rudy Fernandez. Given Matthews' dependability and the potential return of Roy, Fernandez would become the most expendable member of the team's current rotation, although his ability to handle the ball helps his ability to get on the court should his minutes get squeezed. The formerly disgruntled Fernandez claims he is now happy in Portland and he's still on his rookie contract, so trading his $1.2 million salary alone wouldn't be enough to get the Blazers under the luxury tax line. Previously, Fernandez's asking price was said to be a late-first round pick. At this point, however, his internal value to the Blazers is likely higher than that given the questions surrounding Roy's availability. If you move Fernandez, a team that already struggles to score consistently and space the floor will be stretched even thinner. You would also be sacrificing a known, young, cheap rotation piece heading into a summer when you're likely to rebuild and get younger. 

Putting this all together, we shouldn't be surprised that things are busy for the Blazers in the run-up to the deadline. They've got loads of questions and an uncertain future, plus a bunch of potential trade chips and prospects on rookie deals. But the potential costs of a midseason overhaul seem to outweigh the benefits, and minimal activity at the deadline wouldn't preclude the team's ability to make the same moves this summer or during next season.
Posted on: October 19, 2010 1:29 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2010 1:43 pm
 

Trying to explain the odd SI Thunder cover

Posted by Royce Young

When Sports Illustrated leaked its NBA preview issue cover this morning, there were two big surprises: 1) There wasn't a glimpse of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh anywhere to be seen on it and 2) it featured Kevin Durant and... Nenad Krstic and Thabo Sefolosha?

Kevin Durant, we all get. No qualms or questions there. But Krstic and Sefolosha? Where's Russell Westbrook, a player whose star is increasing by the day? Or Jeff Green, one of the de facto faces of the franchise? Or even James Harden who is a major part of the Thunder youth movement? Those guys are the obvious candidates, not a guy that's noted for his tough perimeter defense and another that became famous for throwing a chair in someone's face this summer.

But as someone that resides in Oklahoma City and that has followed the Thunder franchise pretty closely since it moved here, I think I have an explanation. Or at least a theory. The Thunder wanted the cover that way.

Obviously Sports Illustrated takes the picture, but the Thunder probably pushed having Sefolosha and Krstic in the picture with KD. Why? Because it just reinforces the philosophy of the franchise. It's not about one guy or even three guys. It's about every player, even down to the training camp invite that's probably not going to make the team.

Every team preaches that idea. But the Thunder lives by it and not just for reasons on the floor. For instance, in my travels in Oklahoma City, I can recall only one, maybe two, major Thunder advertisements featuring Durant. You'd think every single Thunder thing would have his face and his face only all over it. But there are major billboards that have Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor together on it. There's even one with bench scrubs Byron Mullens and D.J. White. In the Thunder's practice facility, there's not any individual pictures or accomplishments to be found. There's one big banner that has a photo of the team in a huddle.

It a culture that's being built by the front office. And while it's good motivation for what happens on the court, it's also a marketing strategy off it.

The Thunder's goal is to not be Oklahoma City's professional sports franchise and something that's entertainment for residents. They aim to be part of the community. I'm not talking about just making school appearances and stuff. I'm talking about like being the local YMCA. These are professional athletes, these are citizens of your city.

One of the reasons they market the team and not individuals is because of long-term planning. Just in the same way Sam Presti has built the Thunder roster through patience and planning, the organization wants to build the fanbase the same way. For an eight-year-old, Kevin Durant won't be here in 15 years when he's thinking about buying season tickets. The Thunder wants to build a brand that appeals to that eight-year-old now and not just market a cool player to look up to. Because players come and go. The organization doesn't. (Well, shouldn't. Don't throw things at me Seattle readers.)

The organization wants to make it cool to be a Thunder fan, not just a Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook fan. Obviously the players are a major part of it, but little things like putting two role playing non-stars on the cover of a major magazine is just something that's not surprising with this organization. It all starts with the stars, but they're not anymore important than the last player on the bench.

It's about brand management for the long haul. Kind of the opposite of what the Heat are doing now. The Heat introduced their new Big 3 together at a huge party, as if they're the only three players on the team. But what happens when their contracts are up and they move on? The Heat are building a brand based off three players, not off the entire Miami Heat team. It's a different approach and one that works for a major market, but for a small community driven market like Oklahoma City, it's always team first, individuals, well, never. 

It helps that the Thunder's star is as bought in to the team concept as the organization. Reportedly, Durant was going to be on the cover by himself but demanded he have a couple teammates on there with them. Maybe he specifically asked for Thabo and Nenad. Maybe that's all that was available. Or maybe the team sent them. Who knows. But this team concept thing helps when the guy that would be getting all the attention defers to the same philosophy as the franchise.

There's a line in an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is talking to George and mentions how silly professional sports kind of are, mentioning that really, we're just rooting for laundry. And it's like the Thunder had made that its mantra. They want their fans to root for the laundry, not the guys wearing it.
Posted on: August 20, 2010 4:56 pm
Edited on: August 20, 2010 4:58 pm
 

Playing for country, risking the future

Posted by Royce Young

If you ask Sam Presti what he thinks of three of his Thunder players competing in the World Championships, he'd give you the scripted answer. He'd say how he's excited about the opportunity for them, how he's encouraged them to play hard there and how he thinks the competition will only make them better.

Actually, Presti pretty much already said exactly that. “We know that, more than likely, our guys are going to be playing somewhere during the summer, whether it’s in a gym in L.A. or D.C. or wherever it is,” Presti said in an interview with thunder.nba .com. “But given the opportunity to compete against the best players in the NBA in a structured environment is really a great development opportunity for the guys as a whole and it’s certainly better than any pick-up game they can find elsewhere.”

But I'm guessing if you could really ask him and get a candid answer, he'd probably say he's a bit terrified. Excited for them no doubt, but certainly nervous. And you can bank that he's definitely not the only one.

With injuries piling up for NBA stars that are competing this summer internationally, the fear for coaches, GMs and fans rises as well. So far we've seen a sprained ankle for Stephen Curry, a dislocated finger for Danny Granger, an ankle injury to Anderson Varejao , plus there are potential for incidents like we saw yesterday with Nenad Krstic . Plus, the worst yet, a broken foot for Rodrigue Beaubois. Any time players compete, the chance for injury or issue is there.

Take the Dallas Mavericks for example. Other than Beaubois' injury, the Mavs have reason to squirm a bit. Tyson Chandler was one of the Mavs biggest moves of the offseason . And with the rash of problems with Team USA's big men, Chandler is the only center on the roster. That means if coach Mike Krzyzewski wants to have an actual center on the floor, Chandler would have to go the distance. That sound you just heard was Mark Cuban throwing up.

Chandler is a player that can barely go to his mailbox and grab his mail without getting hurt. And between practices, exhibition games and then actual games in Turkey, Chandler might pile up half a season of work before the season even starts. Plus, add in the fact that other teams know Chandler is the only big man on Team USA's roster, the fact other countries tend to play a little rougher against Team USA and the fact that international play can tend to get a little nasty, and you've got three strikes to be concerned about. And that's just with Tyson Chandler.

But what are teams supposed to do? Tell their guys they can't play? Of course they have to protect their investments and the best interests of their respective organizations, but you can't stop a player from playing for his country. This isn't North Korea. But at the same time, you can bet Cuban has Coach K on speed dial and has probably offered his opinion once or twice on Chandler's contributions.

There are lots of NBA players playing in the World Championships this year, as is the case now in international basketball. But for the most part, it doesn't matter if they're playing in Turkey or not, basketball players are prone to playing basketball. Whether that be on the blacktop or on the hardwood, injury risks are there all offseason . But it's not just the injury but the fatigue of playing a couple hundred extra minutes. Players might be worn down heading into training camp, a time they're supposed to be at their freshest. Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks senses that concern.

“Well they’re definitely going to need some time to just decompress and relax because it’s going to be a very high-intensity tournament,They’re going to play basketball all year long. Kevin, I wanted him to take a couple of weeks off and he took two days off," Brooks said in an interview with an OKC radio station. "There’s going to be a little bit of time where I’ll say ‘OK, you guys gotta rest,’ and maybe I can rest them a few days during that month of October, but it’s going to be like pulling teeth to get those guys to sit out of things.”

Kobe Bryant talked about the kind of wear and tear he felt after playing 82 games, then another 30 or so in the postseason and then another 15 in the 2008 Olympics. He only got about a month off to recover before he was revving back up for the 2008-09 season. Players like Rajon Rondo and Lamar Odom went deep into the postseason and are experiencing that long summer. Will it effect them during a back-to-back next February? Eh, hard to say. In fact, probably not. These guys are world-class athletes in world-class shape. But mentally it can tax on a player and the perception can be that all those games have caused someone to lose a step.

The ultimate fear is what happened to Beaubois. A serious injury that could potentially have an effect on the upcoming season. I'm sure Mark Cuban had a moment of "Why in the heck is he playing in this dumb thing?" But then again, Darren Collison was injured playing pickup ball. Making it through the summer unscathed is something GMs and coaches cross their fingers for, but international competition or not, risk for injury is there. But in the case of this summer, the Worlds just present more opportunity than usual.

Playing for country is almost a duty to some of these players. It seems like lip service when people like Kevin Durant say it's a dream and the ultimate pinnacle in basketball is having a gold medal placed around your neck while your anthem blares. But to these guys, it's means something. That doesn't mean there not risks involved and that front offices and fanbases can't be fretful. But if you want your players to get better and satisfy their ambitions to wear their country's colors, you've just to cross your fingers, say a little prayer and hope come October, everything is the way it should be.
Posted on: July 22, 2010 12:31 pm
 

Presti, Thunder agree to multi-year extension

Posted by Royce Young

In another brilliant move in no-brainerness, the Thunder have signed general manager Sam Presti to a multi-year extension.

Presti inks Durant to a long-term deal, Clay Bennett signs Presti to a long-term deal. Makes total sense.

Said Bennett in a release: “We are fortunate to have Sam leading our basketball organization. He is extremely committed to the growth of our franchise, of our players, and this community. He has helped build an identity for this organization that we can all be proud of. I look forward to our continued work together as we experience the challenges of creating sustainable success.”

Since taking over as GM four years ago, Presti has basically reconstructed the entire roster. The only player remaining that was on the team before Presti arrived is Nick Collison. Presti has drafted (or acquired draft rights of) eight of the Thunder's current roster players, signed two in free agency and traded for the other four.

Presti has said from day one since arriving in Seattle that his strategy was to build a group of players that can grow and mature together. He constantly preaches process and plan and can't go five minutes without talking about development. Presti is a GM that's truly ahead of the game and never lets outside sources influence his decisions. He's held on to Oklahoma City's cap space like grim death and honestly, there's no sign of him really using it any time soon.

And his process is working out. After winning just 20 games his first season in charge, then 24 the next, Presti's Thunder jumped to 50 last season and a playoff birth against the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Everyone praises the Thunder for their moves and for doing things right, but it honestly can't be that hard when you're just extended people like Kevin Durant and Sam Presti. Not too many people could really screw those moves up.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com