Sonics' GM Presti sets new beat
The itch will return. Soon, Sam Presti's hands will twiddle against his thigh. His head will bop uncontrollably. And the immaculate shoes...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sam Presti fileSonics general manager
Age: 30, born Nov. 1, 1976, in Concord, Mass.
College: Emerson College.
Game time: Hired in June 2007, Presti is the Sonics' 11th GM. He began his career as an intern for the San Antonio Spurs in 2000. Known for his analytical approach and keen eye for talent, Presti was promoted four times in San Antonio before accepting the Sonics position.
Biggest move: Traded Sonics All-Star Ray Allen and a draft pick to Boston for the 2007 fifth overall pick (Jeff Green), guard Delonte West, forward Wally Szczerbiak.
Playing days: Four-year letterman who was selected to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference all-tournament team. Two-time all-academic selection. Once took a record six charges in a game.
Awards: 2005 Emerson College Young Alumnus.
Last iPod tune: Eric B. & Rakim, "Know the Ledge."
Did you know? Presti used to sport two earrings in one ear.
The itch will return.
Soon, Sam Presti's hands will twiddle against his thigh. His head will bop uncontrollably. And the immaculate shoes of the new Sonics general manager will tap to an inner beat.
Then Presti will be on a different hunt — for a set of drums to whale away on.
The hobby probably makes him the coolest general manager in the NBA, not that there's much mention of his drumming outside of brief notes in newspaper articles and media guides. Mostly, Presti is known for his boyish face, lithe frame and age (he turns 31 on Thursday), which would suggest he should be part of the NBA assembly line, not conductor of one of the league's franchises.
But his new position directly correlates to his passion as a drummer.
Presti was a member of various bands at Emerson College in Boston, gathering musicians for collaborations on numerous tracks ranging from jazz to hip-hop.
He set the tone.
Those are distant memories, however. After graduation, Presti rose quickly to become a top GM prospect after accepting an internship with San Antonio in 2000, making $250 a month. Now, he's an unassuming yet omnipotent character who weaves in and out of shadows around the team's training facility and KeyArena, intent on collecting the right pieces to alter the climate in Seattle from stagnant to contender.
"He's serious about being successful," said Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard, who worked with Presti in San Antonio.
So the drum set collects dust in Presti's old San Antonio apartment, waiting to be shipped to its new home in Seattle. Replacing it is an iPod full of Presti's favorite drummers. Late nights, when he's alone in the training facility, he'll crank the music high and tune his ear to the beat of QuestLove of the Roots, Ronnie Vannucci of the Killers or Terri Lyne Carrington.
"Right now, I'm so busy and so focused, I haven't had time to get the itch," Presti said of picking up the sticks again. "But it'll surface. I'll pop in somewhere and sit in on someone."
Terms like "busy" and "focused" are understatements considering what Presti has accomplished since Clay Bennett, chairman of the Sonics and Storm's Oklahoma-based ownership group, plucked him from the Spurs in June.
After a disappointing 31-51 Sonics season, Bennett said he wanted someone "on the way up and who, in their youth, perhaps would not hesitate on certain decision-making processes [and if] given the authority in the right context can work hard, be fearless and move this organization."
Bennett showered Presti with accolades at the news conference to announce his hiring. But the most telling sign of the owner's confidence in Presti is in the control he gave his general manager.
Bennett was not happy with how vocal Sonics legend Lenny Wilkens had been as president and demoted both Wilkens and former GM Rick Sund, making both of them consultants (a limited role). Then Bennett, reportedly paying his new GM less than the $1 million Sund made, approved Presti to revamp the organization.
And Presti did more overhauling than Martha Stewart at a home expo.
In five months, Presti changed everything from the décor to the decorum, the roster to the respectability.
"What we're trying to do is create a culture of winning," said Presti, choosing his words carefully to be sure his point is accurately conveyed, to the point of giving what seem like stock answers. "But it's not going to be the paint on the walls or the carpet on the floor that are going to help us establish that culture. It will be the people and how we do our jobs."
Gone in the training facility are the framed team photos through the years that led up a staircase to the GM's offices. In their place is a massive Sonics logo, the splashiest visible sign of the approximate $500,000 renovation.
In the locker room, the lighting is brighter, the television is updated and the carpet is fresh. The team's public-relations staff has helped Presti institute new rules that limit media access to players. And on game day at KeyArena, everyone is given a specific parking space and attendants are expected to know the name of everyone who enters the private lot.
"Everything is structured," said one holdover Sonics employee.
The buttoning up of the organization comes across as militant to some. Particularly if one has never communicated with Presti.
He wears sleek designer glasses and keeps a stern look as he walks briskly, not looking approachable. But when a 16-year-old Shoreline kid tapped him on the shoulder for a photo during halftime of the Sonics' exhibition loss to Golden State on Tuesday, Presti beamed and held a short conversation.
"We did a lot of changes and I think it's going to be good for the team," said third-year Sonics center Johan Petro, who previously knew of Presti through predraft workouts in San Antonio. "We got to the point where we needed some changes. Everything is going to be tighter for us, too, because we're kind of young this year. We don't have, like, the old players that can help the young guys coming up, so everything is going to be stricter."
Presti is far from a dictator. His motives, according to those who work with him closely, are caring for the players and building the base for a franchise he hopes will become a consistent championship contender — much like his roots with San Antonio, which has won four NBA titles.
"But there isn't a manual," said Presti, who did bring Sonics coach and close friend P.J. Carlesimo and player-development assistant Brian Keefe from San Antonio. "P.J. and I have talked about this before; we don't want this to be a San Antonio West. We feel good about the direction and good about the people on board. We've taken a lot of steps and are pleased about where we are, but we still haven't played a game."
While Presti's vision is in place, the season will be the gauge of his work. Sonics fans have had a love-hate relationship with their general managers since reaching the NBA Finals in 1996, going so far as to fly a plane with a banner requesting former GM/president Wally Walker be traded and questioning Sund selecting Senegalese center Mouhamed Sene.
Now they have a GM who teasingly says it would take him a year to grow a goatee.
"I didn't know who he was when I first saw him; he looks younger than me," said rookie Kevin Durant, who turned 19 in September.
Presti is the youngest GM in the league and one of nine who never played in the NBA, but if he's able to piece together a winning roster, the Sonics could draw fans back to KeyArena despite the arena turmoil being disputed in the courts.
"Sam is his own guy, there's no question about that," said first-year Sonics assistant general manager Scott Perry, who has known Presti since 2000. "He's a bright guy. He's the type of leader who wants what's best for everybody around. He's very player-friendly, if you will, and wants to set up an environment that will hopefully get us to the championship level."
Presti's moves toward those goals were draft-day shockers in Seattle.
After making the expected pick of drafting Durant second overall, Presti traded All-Star Ray Allen and a draft pick to Boston for the fifth overall pick (Jeff Green), Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. Then Presti made a sign-and-trade move with one-time All-Star Rashard Lewis that cleared room to sign gritty veteran Kurt Thomas.
The Sonics have only four players — Nick Collison, Damien Wikins, Luke Ridnour and Robert Swift — remaining from the squad that won the inaugural Northwest Division title and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals in 2004-05. But if given time, maybe this team will culminate in the right beat.
And Presti can pick up the sticks again to play a different tune.
"You've got to see him," said Emerson College coach Hank Smith, who coached Presti and has listened to the three CDs the GM compiled for a children's charity. "He's kind of a perfectionist, so anything he does, he's going to work at until it's right. Everything he does is thought out.
"He goes in with a game plan no matter what it is — drumming, the Sonics, it doesn't matter. He likes a lot of information and to be prepared in that field."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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