OKLAHOMA CITY — When the Seattle SuperSonics won the chance to move up in the NBA’s draft lottery two years ago, it was immediately clear that they had just gotten one of the two jackpots in either Greg Oden or, as it turned out, Kevin Durant.
The slight bump the relocated and renamed Oklahoma City Thunder got Tuesday night by moving up one spot to No. 3 is not so evident right away.
Did the Thunder just barely miss out on the class of the draft in Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio? Or is there someone out there like a Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden or Jordan Hill that might just be a superstar in the making, too?
"I wish I had the answers like that,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said Tuesday night. “We’re really focused on finding the best player for us at that pick. Is this a weak draft? Is this a strong draft? For us, it’s not our job to really evaluate that as much as it is to evaluate what the best thing to do with that pick is at three in this particular season.”
What’s certain is that Oklahoma City emerged better than it could have in its first draft lottery since the franchise’s relocation was announced after draft day last year.
The Thunder came in with just under a 12 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick — which instead went to the Los Angeles Clippers — or they could have fallen as far as seventh if the ping-pong balls went against them.
Presti was more than glad to take any move in an upward direction, even the slightest one.
“I don’t want to sound too obvious, but having the third pick for us is a lot better than having the fourth. Shoot, you know, when have three you wish you had two. But this is definitely a great position for us to be in,” Presti said.
“I think we’ll definitely get some phone calls and we’ll have some options. We also like the group of players that will be there.”
One who isn’t likely to be around at No. 3 is Griffin, an Oklahoma City native who was the college player of the year at Oklahoma. Since Griffin declared on April 7 that he was leaving the Sooners after his sophomore year, the city has been abuzz with hope that the Thunder could get the No. 1 pick and take Griffin — or maybe engineer an unlikely trade for the No. 1 pick if the lottery didn’t fall exactly right.
The first question Presti faced in a conference call after the lottery suggested the possibility that the Thunder might look to trade the pick.
"At this point in the year, we’re charged with examining everything. We’ll take calls, we’ll make calls. It’s been like that every year," Presti said. "I understand where you’re going with the question in regards to Blake, and this year we’ll approach the same way that we have every year. We’ll take a look at everything and ultimately decide what’s best for the organization."
After rarely being far enough down in the standings to be a real factor in the lottery, the franchise has been affected the past three years. The 2007 drawing brought a huge bonus with a lift from the No. 5 pick to the second overall pick, which yielded Durant — who won the Rookie of the Year award while Oden was out with an injury.
Last year’s lottery resulted in a two-spot drop to No. 4, where Presti picked Russell Westbrook. This time, it brought another upward swing and only third time in franchise history the team will draft at No. 3 — if it keeps the pick.
The last time was in 1974, when the Sonics took Tom Burleson out of North Carolina State.
The Thunder currently have a No. 2 pick (Durant), a No. 4 pick (Westbrook) and a No. 5 pick (Jeff Green) from the last three drafts, but have never had the top overall pick.
"We like the draft. It’s a chance to add a player. It’s a chance to add a talented, young player that can grow with your team and organization," Presti said.
"And that’s not just at the third pick. That’s at any pick. In any draft, these picks have value."