Spurs rivalry with OKC heating up in underrated ways heading into draft lottery

The San Antonio Spurs biggest rival may end up being the Oklahoma City Thunder but not for the reason you think.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Julian Champagnie
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Julian Champagnie / Joshua Gateley/GettyImages

NBA fans got their first taste of Victor Wembanyama this season and the returns were more than what was expected. He had some of the most ridiculous performances, while routinely making highlight plays that make you belly laugh incredulously. Prior to his arrival, you had never seen a player do what he has been able to do on the court at his size.

Wembanyama's American introduction wasn't presented alone, though. Chet Holmgren not only had his rookie season at the same time but ended up on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The league could not write a better script for a heavyweight rivalry if they tried. If the basketball gods stay on the side of fans, everyone will get to watch those two go head-to-head for two decades.

It's easy to get caught up in the battles that take place on the hardwood because they're right in front of your face. The high-level basketball played on the floor is why you watch but it is not the only factor in deciding the outcomes fans enjoy. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet and their assortment of talented players will be problems for years to come but the biggest threat is the man running their front office: General Manager Sam Presti.

The biggest threat to San Antonio's return to dominance is Sam Presti

Oklahoma City is the only organization in the NBA with more first-round draft picks than San Antonio. The Thunder are sitting on a potential 16 opening-round selections until 2030, including 3 in this year's draft.

Presti joined their franchise in 2007 when they were still in Seattle and hasn't left, making him the longest-tenured GM in the league. His first move was to draft Kevin Durant. He put together the young, dynamic OKC team that fans remember fondly, composed of KD, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. Many feel like it was a mistake to trade Harden when he did but that team continued to make deep postseason runs.

When Durant wanted out and Westbrook left, it made life difficult for their front office and they had to pivot but with patience and efficient asset management, they are back in the thick of things. With Presti at the helm, they will likely continue to manage the team at an elevated level. He even secured ex-Spurs shooting coach Chip Engelland.

So, if the Spurs want to retake the top spot in this rivalry, they better be prepared to go with the war with the mind of Sam Presti. That means having more hits than misses in the coming draft and beyond. However, the determining factor may end up being that San Antonio has Victor Wembanyama. That helps.