Feb 25, 2011, 12:07 PM EDT
Oklahoma City is your trade deadline winner.
Last season in the playoffs, the young and athletic Thunder tested the Lakers in the playoffs first round, but when push came to shove the Lakers shoved harder. They had Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and the Thunder had no answer. Same thing when the two teams played a few weeks ago.
Now the Thunder have an answer.
A big answer. Kendrick Perkins, one of the most ferocious defenders in the paint the league has to offer. A shot blocker and good one-on-one post defender. A guy who will stand his ground. And he is backed up by Nazr Mohammed, so they Thunder bring a good defensive big off the bench, too. All that allows Nick Collison to play more four, where he will be more comfortable.
Combine that with the scoring you know you get from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and…
Are the Thunder title contenders?
Maybe. When a good team addresses its biggest deficiency, you have to take notice.
The key is if the arrival of Perkins sparks an overall defensive turnaround. Last season, while we were all being wowed by Durant and the Thunder offense, they were a solid defensive team. This season they are giving up 3.5 more points per 100 possessions than they did a year before as teams are shooting better and being forced into fewer turnovers. Not having a big man in the middle to protect the rim was an issue, but the Thunder didn’t have a rim-protecting big last season and did better on defense.
Plugging in Perkins and Mohammed alone will not be enough. The perimeter defense, the contesting of shots, the willingness to fight through picks has to improve also. Everything has to get better.
There are other questions. As ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz points out, Perkins has no shooting range. Having him in the game allows the big man from the other team to stay close to the rim and help defend better. Teams now will sag off the Thunder, clog the lane and dare them to beat them with the jumper
This move also comes with risks. One is Perkins knee, which is just 13 games off major surgery and already he has tweaked it again.
And there is the fact Perkins is a free agent this summer and could walk. Boston GM Danny Ainge seemed dismayed by what Perkins was asking in his next contract, so he decided to move him now. But most NBA players really only get one or two kicks at the can — the chance to get a contract that will set them up comfortably for life. In Perkins case maybe his family for generations. He gets one shot and he wants to go big, and you can’t fault him for that. This is his chance. And that may be too rich for Oklahoma City’s blood.
Whatever the outcome this was a brilliant move by Thunder GM Sam Presti. Jeff Green was going to make more than the Thunder wanted to pay him, so they shipped him out to fill their biggest need.
And if Perkins defensive energy becomes contagious, they may have a contender in Oklahoma City. And this trade will look even better.
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