Close your eyes and say this three times fast:
"Sam Presti works in silence. Sam Presti works in silence. Sam Presti works in silence."
During this offseason, the Thunder GM has given the cult that praises his every transaction reason to have faith in his abilities. Presti hasn’t been aggressive as much as he’s just been covertly opportunistic, swooping in to sweep up other teams’ messes and transform the crumbs into his own feast.
A proposed Paul George–to-Cleveland trade that fell through after reportedly being one text message away from completion turned into a success story for Presti and the Thunder, who pounced on the eve of free agency and rid themselves of a bad contract (Victor Oladipo) and ended up with a star to pair with Russell Westbrook. Presti’s follow-ups were rewarding, too, even if they weren’t as splashy. The Thunder were able to pry Patrick Patterson from Toronto and get an above-average power forward on a team-friendly deal. Even the decision to bring on an aging but still-competent Raymond Felton to deepen their backcourt made sense on a cheap deal.
Now it appears Presti is up to something again. Per our own Bill Simmons, the Thunder and Carmelo Anthony have been "circling each other" as Melo tries to find a way out of New York.
Let’s break this down.
Will Melo waive his no-trade clause to go to Oklahoma?
For all that Melo has said about wanting to live in big cities and command large markets, this is a plausible possibility. The Knicks, now under Steve Mills and Scott Perry, could be asking for a lot in Melo deals with Houston or Cleveland. Just a week ago, Melo was all but wearing Rockets red, but after a change of leadership in New York the momentum on such a deal seems to have slowed. It’s probably a good sign for the Knicks as they try to either keep Melo or maximize his value in a trade.
But Melo seems to be hell-bent on getting out of Dodge, and with the most hectic portion of the offseason over, he might be forced to consider smaller destinations if he really wants to leave this summer. Though the situation in OKC doesn’t exactly fill the big-city quota, it does fulfill other requirements. A chance to compete right away? Check. A team with enough assets to quench the Knicks’ thirst? Check. The presence of a familiar front-office exec (Troy Weaver)? Check.
A one-year glory run to try to upstage the Warriors with Russ and PG would be fun for all. If Houston can’t figure out how to make things work, Oklahoma City might be the next best place for Melo to find a superteam.
How will Melo play alongside Russ and George?
We said it when Chris Paul joined the Rockets, and we’ll say it again: There’s only one ball. Adding George to a Russ-led team looked like a good-enough fit. George is a dynamic scorer who can lead an offense, but he works best off the ball. Russ could still get his fix while George fills up the stat sheet, at least before crunch time, when the "Who takes the last shot?" question comes into play. Adding Melo would turn that puzzle into a Rubik’s cube. Last season, Westbrook, George, and Anthony were top-20 players in usage rate. Imagine the issues that could develop with all three in the same lineup.
Here’s the flip side: If the stars can put their egos aside, the Thunder would be able to trot out a lethal first unit. With George as a secondary offensive option behind Russ, and Melo as a third option, OKC would have a nearly unguardable number of offensive options. If Melo becomes a spot-up shooter waiting for Russ to drive and kick or for George to pass out of a double-team, he’s going to get a lot of open shots. And it seems likely that Melo will make them, just like he has on loaded Olympic teams. For all the griping about how underwhelming he’s been in New York, Anthony is still a lethal scorer who could reach peak efficiency in a system in which he’s not the focal point.
It’s hard to foresee a balanced offense with Westbrook, George, and Anthony on the court, but the team could improve significantly if it could stagger the trio’s minutes. This is where Billy Donovan comes into play. In managing George and Westbrook, he’s already being forced to balance a confusing equation. But adding Melo in the mix might require more than sound math. At face value, solving the one-ball-three-stars problem is a good dilemma for a head coach to have. But managing egos, styles, and personalities is the far more complicated task. Donovan was given a lot of money to handle KD and Russ together before they split. Now he could get a shot at an even tougher job.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the time frame for Paul George’s trade to the Thunder. He was traded just before the start of free agency, not on the eve of the NBA draft.