March 01, 2011
One has to watch themselves -- as a fan or analyst or both -- in getting too giddy with the teams that seem to be doing everything right, and the teams that can't seem to make a move to save their life. Cleveland is on one end of that spectrum, risking a terrible locker-room atmosphere with the Baron Davis(notes) acquisition even while doing the right thing for their fans in paying tons of money to buy a lottery pick in this June's draft.
Oklahoma City has been the go-to poster squad for NBA observers both old school and new for a while now. The general columnists and TV talkers appreciate the squad's seemingly hubris-less ways, the way it ran its defense last season and the effort it shows nearly every night.
A different batch of NBA observers enjoy those qualities as well, but while also admiring the way the squad works with its cap space, asset-building commitment to the right type of player. No, not the "right type" in a Larry Brown sense. But a rotation that seems to have been all born around the same date, making about the same amount of money, with depth and talent to spare. No Ben Wallaces or Hedo Turkoglus to put it over the top. An emphasis on 2014 -- as much as 2011 screams for attention.
So it's easy to get ahead of ourselves and chalk up the team's recent acquisition of Kendrick Perkins(notes), and the contract extension Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier Tuesday, as another example of OKC GM Sam Presti's shining brilliance. How he managed to score the low-post lout he needed to keep his interior daisy-fresh for an out-of-place youngster in Jeff Green(notes) and the aging-by-the-second Nenad Krstic(notes).
Until you realize that we're all aging by the second. Or that while Jeff Green was clearly overrated as a member of the Thunder, he could contribute in a different role somewhere else. And that Presti's new contract extension to Perkins -- a player who couldn't hit a shot outside of 10 feet even if Ray Allen(notes) was holding his hands and arms for him, Big Brother-style -- could work as a millstone once the new collective bargaining agreement hits before 2011-12.
Or ... nah. Great move, Sam Presti.
Though Perkins has hardly made a name for himself as a money-grubber, he did reportedly turn down a four-year, $22 million extension from the Celtics this season. The free-agent-to-be would have been playing under a contract that falls just short of the average NBA deal, and Kendrick Perkins is far from an average NBA player, despite pedestrian point and rebound statistics.
We can't continue to kill the Celtics for the trade that sent Perkins away, because a solid-enough center in Nenad Krstic and wing help in Jeff Green was a nice takeaway. But the fact remains we would still have liked to see the team run the year out with Perkins on board, even if it meant losing him this offseason. Boston is still the leader in the East, though. In more ways than one.
Oklahoma City saw its chance with the burly big man. And it was afforded such a chance with smart offseason maneuvering in the summers of 2009 and 2010, and a smart-as-they-come contract extension handed out to Nick Collison(notes) earlier this season. This years-long buildup set a precedent followed by the Perkins deal Tuesday.
The Thunder had cap space to work with because of previous deals and a willingness to keep Collison (who is older than most of OKC's rotation, but a killer force on the defensive end) around for years. The team front-loaded his extension so that Collison would take up the rest of the team's cap space in 2010-11 -- overpaying him if we're honest -- so that they could wildly underpay the versatile big man from 2011-15 at around half of the NBA's current average salary. It was a great deal, for all involved.
And by shedding a few million off the team's cap in a pair of deals last week, the Thunder were then able to take their leftover cap space and apply a bonus of sorts to Kendrick Perkins. And with Perkins' new contract now reflecting his bonus, the terms of his contract extension could then be strung out to overall numbers more in line with what Perkins should be making for the next four years. Boston had no such luxury, due to the constraints of the CBA and what teams can offer via contract extension.
The result is a four-year, $34.8 million deal that is more reminiscent of what players like Marcin Gortat(notes) are making, while a step below what Joakim Noah(notes) and Al Horford(notes) are pulling in. It gives the Thunder a big man they can rely on to defend, defend, defend (while, despite his limitations, not hurt the team offensively) for the next few years. And the good-enough terms allow the team to safely extend all-world guard Russell Westbrook(notes) this offseason to what will probably be a max contract. Though expectedly a shorter and less-expensive max than we've seen in the NBA since 1999.
The cheery tone has to stop with this, for now at least. I don't know who I'd take in a series between the Thunder and Mavericks, and though Oklahoma City has played both the Lakers and Spurs to an inch within their life over the last two years, I certainly know who I'd take in a seven-game series between the Lakers and Thunder or Thunder and Spurs. The vets have it.
That's not the point, though. The point is 2014, or any of the years before it, and a chance at pulling any series off against the Mavericks, Lakers or Spurs in 2011. The Mavs, Lakers or Spurs can claim to be on par or better with the Thunder in that regard in 2011, but there's no way in hell they can pretend to be in place to do the same in 2014. Sam Presti is having his cake and eating it, too. And his future cake. Rocket-boosters and everything.
Nothing short of a complete meltdown in terms of Perkins' health -- which is never out of the realm of the possible -- has this deal going sour. All because Sam Presti seems to be the rare NBA GM that actually believes that the world won't end when the Mayans said it would.