The Thunder and their Manchurian Candidate

During the offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder did something very unconventional. Instead of hiring a scout to serve as their video coordinator/analyst, they, instead, hired premier basketball video blogger Sebastian Pruiti. For those of you who don’t know who Pruiti is, he ran a website called nbaplaybook.com, in which he used clips of games to break down film and explain why a team may or may not have been successful in certain sets. Pruiti did a great job of explaining the content in a way that even the average NBA fan could understand.

His understanding of the game was not without any background. He served as a volunteer assistant coach for the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders. Then, he served as an assistant coach for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League. Needless to say, the man is an astute basketball mind. One of the best basketball writers of our generation, Bill Simmons, noticed this and decided to hire Pruiti for his newly formed Grantland multimedia conglomerate. In fact, Simmons was the one that broke the news on Twitter that Pruiti had been hired by the Thunder.

The thought of a Simmons’ disciple going to the Thunder, though, got my conspiracy  mind thinking. On the one hand, Simmons has written about his disdain for how the Seattle Supersonics eventually became the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not that he necessarily carries any ill regard for the team itself, but more for the process that eventually landed the team in the Great Plains. As punishment, he has yet to call the team by its current moniker in any of his writings, instead referring to them as the Zombie Sonics. On the other hand, Simmons’ crowning achievement in life would be to someday become an NBA GM. It’s a dichotomous train of thought that is one part Manchurian Candidate and one part Great Expectations.

Think about it. Before Simmons hired Pruiti, he probably kept tabs on him for years like a spy cultivating an asset. He was the best video blogging analyst in the game and worked on several basketball-related sites. As a basketball junkie, Simmons had to immediately recognize his work and his talent. One of Simmons’ most important traits as a writer is his ability to read situations before they occur. He has correctly predicted the “Ewing Theory” on many occasions, and has a keen understanding of how people will react to certain situations. These are all characteristics of a great point guard; someone who sets things in motion, directs the traffic, sees things before they happen, and makes proper adjustments whenever necessary.

I could see Simmons playing chess, while everyone else plays checkers. He knew that Thunder GM Sam Presti is very analytical and values statistics as a means to better answer questions. He also knew that Presti is young and probably very in tune with the basketball blogosphere and advanced cybermetrics. In terms of probability, there’s a lot better chance that someone like Presti or Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey would hire Pruiti, than someone like Detroit Pistons GM Joe Dumars or Indiana Pacers GM Donnie Walsh.

Eventually, Presti finally took the bait and hired Pruiti. And with that, Simmons finally had his Manchurian candidate in place. As George W. Bush would say, “Mission (half-way) accomplished!” As a video coordinator/analyst, Pruiti’s job is to break down every one of the Thunder’s possessions (both offensive and defensive), looking to see what works and what doesn’t work for the team. If coaching were compared to another Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, Pruiti would be the Ghost of Coaching Past and Future, while Scott Brooks would be the Ghost of Coaching Present. The information Pruiti garners from game film will help steer how the team plays in the future.

With Pruiti in the door, does he begin to show skewed video evidence to the Thunder front office suggesting a Keith Bogans for James Harden trade would be beneficial to the team? Does he show slanted video proof that Kendrick Perkins should get the ball more in late game situations? Does he systematically try to derail the team’s ascension from the inside out?

Or perhaps, the motive is completely selfish on Simmons’ part. Let’s say Pruiti climbs up the coaching ranks and gets in good with the owner of a struggling team. Who’s to say that Pruiti won’t put in a good word to the owner that Simmons is a master capologist (via ESPN’s Trade Machine, of course), a burgeoning talent evaluator, and a great judge of character? With those qualifications, which struggling team wouldn’t hire Simmons as their GM?

That would literally make Simmons, Mr. Magwich, to Pruiti’s Pip. While Simmons may have assisted Pruiti in the past and present, Pruiti may some day perform the quid pro quo for Simmons in the future. In life it’s all about your contacts and the more connections you make, the more possibilities you have. Who knows, maybe one day Sebastian Pruiti will be the Thunder’s head coach and Bill Simmons will be the Thunder’s (gulp!) GM. That would be the irony of all ironies. At least then, he would probably have to mention the Thunder by name.

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