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Did Thunder want to break up team? Sam Presti says “no.”

Sam Presti Press Conference

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JULY 25: Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti speaks with media at the Thunder ION on July 25, 2019 in Oklahoma City, OK. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers put it this way:

“We showed [Leonard] everybody else and he didn’t want to hear it. He just stayed on Paul George, so after the meeting we sat down and I said, ‘We got to get Paul George. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but we have to do it.’ We did know that Oklahoma City wanted to break their team up.”

The Washington Post would have given that statement four Pinocchios.

For one thing, Kawhi Leonard and George were talking before the start of free agency about teaming up.

Secondly, Sam Presti — the Thunder’s GM — disputes the idea OKC wanted to break up its team, as he told Royce Young of ESPN.

“No,” Presti said when asked if Rivers’ claim was true. “I mean, again, I don’t know the context in which that comment was made, and obviously no one asked us our opinion about it. But no. ... We all know that players like Paul George and Russell Westbrook are extremely hard to acquire in cities, in the smaller cities in the league, and when you have those players, you try to do everything you can to retain them.”
“There’s nothing illegal about what took place,” Presti said. “PG handled that like a pro with us. It wasn’t the conversation I wanted to be having in the middle of free agency, but it was handled professionally and in a way that was respectful, and we were able to make it work for us.”

At this point we have a pretty good idea what actually happened:

Leonard reached out to George before the start of free agency, and in turn George — or really, his agent — sat down with Presti and said George wanted to be traded to the Clippers. Los Angeles knew they needed to get George to land Leonard (most likely) and started working on the deal. George was upfront with the Thunder, who may not have wanted to break up their team but ultimately had no choice (there were rumors who they really wanted to move was Westbrook). The Thunder got a huge haul from the Clippers, so it worked.

It’s all spin. Presti cannot say “we wanted to break this team up one year after we celebrated putting it together” so whether he did or not he has to say they wanted to keep it together. The Clippers have to avoid even the appearance of tampering (not to say they did, but they can’t have it look like they did. In the end, it’s all the kind of stuff Adam Silver would love to eliminate. Good luck with that.