NORMAN — It is hard to read Sam Presti’s mind.
Oh, fine, let’s just go with impossible.
It’s impossible to read Sam Presti’s mind.
The Thunder general manager submits to media gatherings about three times a year, he’s forever careful with his words, nothing leaks from his front office, only he knows what’s really going on.
He is the guru, after all.
However, as you consider this Thunder roster, the coming offseason and next season’s roster, consider this.
Two offseasons ago, Oklahoma City was coming off a 48-win regular season despite paying out the third highest payroll in the league and, rather than shed salary figuring it wasn’t going anywhere, doubled down on Paul George, signing him to a four-year max deal.
Though it eventually got out from under most of the final season of Carmelo Anthony’s contract, trading it to Atlanta for Dennis Schroder, the payroll still leaped from about $134.5 million to just short of $145 million.
That team won 49 games.
Also, just like the one before, it suffered a first-round bounce from of the playoffs.
Surely that would have pushed OKC’s day of reckoning forward. The breakup would have to begin.
No, it wouldn’t.
Last offseason, the Thunder front office was prepared to put another high-salary, low-return team on the floor, hoping if they just kept throwing Russell Westbrook and Paul George against the same wall, something different and better would emerge.
Until George asked out, hoping to join Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City was prepared to lay in the bed it had made.
It had spent the world on Westbrook and George, and was prepared to stick with them as long as the two were simultaneously under contract, something they’d be through the 2021-2022 season.
Now, once the magic carpet ride this season’s become ends, wherever it ends, there’s the presumption a breakup will commence.
It could happen quickly, with Danilo Gallinari leaving in free agency, Paul being traded to somebody who wants him despite the two seasons remaining on the max deal he signed prior to the 2018-19 season, and should that happen, surely a trade partner could be found for Dennis Schroder and, once that happens, does it even matter if Steven Adams sticks around or not?
It could also happen less quickly, with Gallinari leaving, the Thunder becoming the fringe-playoff contender everybody thought they’d be at best this season, the rest of the exodus occurring at the trade deadline and the 2021 offseason.
Unless the Thunder were inclined to go the opposite direction. Unless Sam Presti were to say, “You know what, we were ready to go the wall with a dysfunctional team that underachieved, why not go to the wall with a hyper-functional team that overachieves.”
Maybe hold on to Gallinari — he'd like to stay, he told The Daily Thunder's Podcast last month — and turn a couple of your future draft assets into a higher selection this year or trade them for a trusted veteran that makes you better the moment they roll the ball out next season.
Look, the Thunder beat the Celtics three days ago to move their 64-game record to 40-24. A year ago in the same spot they were 39-25.
Also, that Thunder team lost five of its next eight games, but this one, riding a three-game winning streak, has Utah at home tonight, followed by Minnesota at home, followed by road games at Washington, Memphis and Atlanta, followed by Denver at home, Miami at Miami and Charlotte at home.
Barring injury to Chris Paul or Dennis Schroder, this team is not losing five of its next eight.
Over their last 47 games, OKC has gone 34-13, a .723 winning percentage. Should it maintain that percentage the rest of the regular season, it will win 53 games.
Is Sam Presti really going to take a wrecking ball to a 53-win team?
Is he really going to blow up a roster that’s already the thing you tear a team down in the name of becoming in the first place?
Hard to see how.
Even better, the Thunder have stacked so many first-round draft picks so far into their future, taking this group as far as it can go for another season or two mortgages very little anyway.
OKC could not be in a better spot.
Perhaps Sam Presti knows this, too.