The news of the Thunder’s 112-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets Jan. 19 was lost in the wake of surprise headlines when Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced that afternoon that his team, the New Jersey Nets, was no longer interested in acquiring Denver star Carmelo Anthony. This was shocking because most people were expecting Prokhorov to announce instead that he was going to finalize a trade for Anthony during his trip to the United States. He cited fatigue from the negotiations as the catalyst for this decision.
Thunder GM Sam Presti is likely the reason.
The trade was expected to be a big one. New Jersey would be parting with Derrick Favors, a reserve power forward who they selected with the third pick of the 2010 draft, several first-round draft picks, and several players with large salaries that would come off the books at the end of the season. In return, they would get one of the league’s best scorers, as well as point guard Chauncey Billups (who is a former Finals MVP), and from a third team, All-Star shooting guard Rip Hamilton.
Such an immediate infusion of talent would usually be a deal that a team’s ownership would be willing to handle with any turbulence — especially when said team has only 11 wins in 42 games. The fact that they were not may be a sign the league is changing for the better, and Thunder GM Sam Presti is likely the reason.
Remember, Denver was also ready to make this deal that would make their team, currently in playoff contention, much worse in the short term. All New Jersey was offering was salary cap relief, a player with promise, and access to future prospects, and most analysts felt they were getting a great return for giving up their two most accomplished players. The reason is that the Nuggets, as constructed, are very good, but hardly a championship contender. It is more desirable for them to lose badly now because it gives them hope for the future.
This belief is given credibility because Presti has done it successfully for the Thunder. When he took over before the team’s final year in Seattle, his early maneuvering had every intention of making his bad team worse. He traded the team’s best player, Ray Allen, to the Celtics for a draft pick and players that he had no intention of keeping. Instead of keeping his second-best player, Rashard Lewis, Presti signed and traded him to Orlando for a cap exception that later netted him three more draft picks.
Since these deals made the team awful, they were later in position to draft Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Those picks they acquired landed them Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green, and through trade, Thabo Sefolosha. Then the financial flexibility landed them Nenad Krstic and Eric Maynor.
That is an amazing haul that turned the team into a real contender. So, it is actually no surprise that the Nets aborted efforts to acquire established talent so they could become mediocre today.
Matthews is an editor of the local news and entertainment blog TheLostOgle.com.