February 24, 2011
The Oklahoma City Thunder didn't trade for any All-Stars. The team didn't pick up a third transcendent scorer to move in alongside giants like Kevin Durant(notes) and Russell Westbrook(notes). They still have to deal with Kobe and Pau, Tim and Manu. But they did get a lot better Thursday. A whole heck of a lot better.
In a pair of moves, the Thunder grabbed burly center Kendrick Perkins(notes) and all-around bench scorer Nate Robinson(notes) from the Boston Celtics, and veteran pivotman Nazr Mohammed(notes) from the Charlotte Bobcats for the price of two starters in Jeff Green(notes) and Nenad Krstic(notes), along with young forward D.J. White(notes), and the nearly retired Morris Peterson(notes).
The Thunder lost two starters, but they also took in significant upgrades at both the power forward and center position. OKC coach Scott Brooks dutifully started Green for years at big forward, after the Thunder traded for the Georgetown forward in return for Ray Allen(notes) back in 2007. But for a good chunk of last season and all of this year, reserve forward Serge Ibaka(notes) has been better on both ends than Green, a fact often lost as Green pulled up for jumper after jumper as a member of the Thunder.
And though Krstic's touch from the outside will be missed, Perkins' defensive presence and ability to make do offensively will help the Thunder return to the defensive roots that they established last season, before abandoning them at times in 2011-12.
Mohammed may come off as the ultimate journeyman, but he's a significant contributor on both ends. Per 36 minutes of play, he averages around 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks a contest. Nazr won't play 36 minutes a night, you say? Well, of course. But spread out over two games, he's going to give you the production levels of a 16 and 12 guy (two blocks) in 18 minutes a night. Don't dismiss that. There was a reason Charlotte's bench kept them in so many games this year.
Oklahoma City won't be breaking the bank for these players, either. Both Perkins and Mohammed are free agents after this season.
The "penalty" for making this deal comes in needing to take on Nate Robinson's below-average contract for one year next season, but I only call this a penalty because of Nate's limited role as he joins a very crowded Thunder backcourt. With Westbrook, Eric Maynor(notes) (a fine young backup point guard), James Harden(notes) and Thabo Sefolosha(notes), the Thunder are stacked in the backcourt, and Nate is going to struggle to find minutes. Robinson has tons of game, though, and his basketball patience grows every year. It's a bummer we won't see him working as the first spark off the bench for a playoff team this year, but that doesn't mean he won't have his moments this spring.
Where does this put Oklahoma City amongst the elite out West? This team is still a clear step behind both the Spurs (especially) and Lakers on paper, but the Thunder have given the Lakers all they can handle recently, and even the most fair-weather of NBA followers can recall that the Thunder were one secured rebound away from taking the Lakers to a seventh game in the playoffs last season. At worst, with Nate Collison shoring up that frontcourt, and Kevin Durant's ever increasing ability to slide over to power forward, this is a team on par with the Dallas Mavericks.
At best? The Thunder could save their best run of the year, in an up-and-down year, for spring. It's quite feasible.
This is another in a long line of heady moves for Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti. The team didn't give up any draft picks, it didn't affect its salary outlook (it'll be under the cap this offseason, the amount depending on what it does with Perkins) in any meaningful way, and nobody is going to want to touch these guys come May.
Careful planning leads to the ability to take advantage of great timing. Sam Presti's team is certainly an example of that.