Basketball in Oklahoma City forever changed July 4th of 2016, the morning Kevin Durant announced he was leaving for Golden State. Suddenly, OKC had lost its biggest star and gotten nothing in return. Worse still, the Thunder had traded Serge Ibaka weeks earlier to try to gear up a lineup to build around Durant being there.
They did what they could that season, which largely meant Westbrook being Superman, becoming the first player to average a triple double for a season since Oscar Robertson did so 55 years prior. Despite OKC only being the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, Westbrook was a deserved NBA Most Valuable Player.
But there was a clear ceiling with that squad. Presti knew things needed to happen to keep Russ around, and he made them happen.
First, he dealt promising youngsters Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana, at the time getting comments from all around that he had “fleeced” the Pacers. (Since, it looks a lot better for Indiana, with Sabonis playing strong ball in his second season and Oladipo competing at an All-Star level.)
Next came the move to New York to get Melo, with bench players Doug McDermott and Enes Kanter going to the Knicks. Suddenly, OKC’s starting lineup had become a whole lot more high-profile.