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Oklahoma City’s big mistake was Perkins trade, extension

Oct 28, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT

Kendrick Perkins, James Harden AP

We all have at least a little bit of stubbornness in us. Not asking for directions? A common mistake rooted in pride. Going down a random, unmarked dirt road for five miles after not asking for directions? A little more foolish. Ending up out of gas in the middle of a field hoping the hills don’t have eyes? Now that’s the level of stubbornness shown by Oklahoma City’s front office.

This isn’t about the end result of having to trade James Harden to the Houston Rockets. Considering the circumstances — small market owner unwilling to pay a highly punitive tax, and a young star unwilling to take less money because of it — the Thunder did alright here. Kevin Martin is the lemonade; an efficient scorer who should be able to come close to replicating Harden’s primary function as a second unit scorer.

In a vacuum, both sides win here. The Thunder get something for someone they were going to lose and stay true to their ideology of building with the best value in sports (the rookie deal) and pick up at least three bonus chances to do so with Jeremy Lamb and the two first round picks. And the Rockets? They finally get the star they’ve been longing for. So what’s the problem here?

The problem is, it didn’t have to come to this. This wasn’t caused by an owner with a tight wallet, or a player getting “greedy”, or even by the new CBA. This was a mistake that was compounded instead of rectified, even when there were multiple opportunities presented. Losing James Harden wasn’t Oklahoma City’s big mistake — keeping Kendrick Perkins was.

February 25th, 2011: Oklahoma City Thunder trade Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.

When the Thunder originally acquired Perkins, it made sense. The Lakers stood tall as the Thunder’s biggest foe, and it was becoming more and more clear that Jeff Green was not the solution. Even though some believed Perkins was simply a product of Boston’s defensive system, at the very least, most agreed he was a formidable post defender. With Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum blocking out the sun, Presti and the Thunder wanted to bring someone in to move them out of the way.

March 1st, 2011: Before he plays a single minute in a Thunder uniform, Perkins is signed to a 36-million dollar, 4-year extension.

A little foreshadowing — the Thunder lock up Perkins before they see how he fits with the team, simply because they know they can’t afford to lose an asset and receive nothing in return but cap space. They were committed, but it was to the idea of Perkins instead of what he actually was.

May 25th, 2011: Oklahoma City falls to Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, 4-1. Perkins plays 28 scoreless minutes in the series clinching game. 

Here’s where the warning signs should have started to really go off. Tyson Chandler out-rebounded Perkins in every game of this series, and rendered the biggest strength of Perkins — post defense — obsolete by scoring almost exclusively on pick-and-rolls and lobs. While Chandler buzzed around the floor, Perkins moved like a dinosaur the majority of the series.

December 8th, 2011: NBA Lockout ends. The amnesty provision is included in the new CBA, along with more punitive luxury tax and changes to player extensions, among other things. 

June 21st, 2012: The Miami Heat defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Perkins finishes the playoffs averaging 4.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a game on 41.6% shooting.

Matched up against Chris Bosh, Kendrick Perkins gets drawn out of the lane defensively and again offers little help in the way of scoring. Nick Collison, routinely one of the league’s plus/minus leaders, plays less minutes than Perkins in every game. Perkins finishes his court time during the series a -19. Collison finishes +13.

July 17th, 2012: The NBA’s amnesty deadline passes. Kendrick Perkins remains with the Thunder. 

This is when the Thunder truly lost James Harden. If the Thunder amnesty Perkins here, they can comfortably sign Harden to a max deal after the season. That’s all it would have taken to keep the young core of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden together for at least the next few years.

So why didn’t it happen? The Thunder surely have access to the numbers, which scream for Collison to play over Perkins. And if they ignored the stats and went simply on the eye test, they had to have seen what a little extra stretch can do for your offense after Miami bludgeoned them into submission with jump shots. Keeping a plodding big man with declining skills that are going out of demand over a young star on the rise? That’s not logical — especially when you’re contending for a title. It’s just not.

But it’s human. Thunder GM Sam Presti has shown that he can come in and fix someone else’s mistakes with the best of them. But admitting and fixing your own? That’s not as easy.

  1. j0esixpack - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    I actually like Perkins as a role player, so while this may come across as a slam, he can be a factor for a contender.

    He’s just not worth the huge contract extension he got.

    Compare his numbers as a starter with Darko and they are not that different, despite Darko only coming off the bench.

    So the Celtics faced the choice of overpaying to keep Perkins, and perhaps get another title that year, but handcuff themselves for the remainder of Pierce and Garnett’s tenure, or try to improve the team long term by adding Green and Robinson.

    Time will tell if they overpaid for Green but he still has promise. I think the jury is in for Perkins’ contract value. If not for him OKC would still have Hardin.

    Then again, maybe OKC made the same assessment that the Celtics did on Perkins. An important role player but not worth that kind of money. Having made the mistake with Perkins perhaps they didn’t want to do the same thing with Hardin.

    It could be that the Perkins/Green trade winds up being a bust for both teams, but as of the moment Green, though yet to prove it in a full season, still shows great promise.

    • stayhigh_247 - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:16 PM

      This is a prime example of why players shouldn’t always listen to their agent. 52 mill vs 58 mill isn’t really that much different. If KD & Westbrook could take a pay cut he should have too if he really wanted to stay in OKC. After the initial shock, I think OKC made a smart move. Being a small market team it doesn’t make sense to end up paying a 28 million dollar tax and not have any financial breathing room, thats not good business sense.
      Perkins played in Thibideau’s system in bean town which made him look viable, OKC definitely jumped the gun on his extension. Personally I dont think he’s that great of a player. But the one thing not to forget is that OKC still has KD, Westbrook and Ibaka (locked in) which are 3 awesome pieces to build around, no need to panic because they will still be in the top 3 in the west. To me, the bigger ? is can Houston make this overpaid hodgepodge experiment work? Linn isn’t that gr8 (at least not yet), Asik is decent if he can stay on the court and can Harden be an effective starter?

      • kdn4 - Oct 28, 2012 at 1:26 PM

        Ummmmm…. KD and Westbrook didn’t take pay cuts… They took their absolute max.

    • drtyhrry794 - Oct 28, 2012 at 3:25 PM

      the reason OKC didn’t extend Harden is because the greedy %#*&^*$##$er back up guard wouldn’t except $14,000,000 a year to play basketball. A back up! $14,000,000 a year. what a Richard.

    • norcal031 - Oct 29, 2012 at 12:43 PM

      Kendrick Perkins is so bad I hate that guys game so much. He flops, plays dirty and then cries if the ref calls a foul on him, he cant shoot, isnt that strong of a rebounder, FT’s….common…..He plays like he has lead and cement in his shoes. He cant keep up with D12, DMC or even Hibbert up and down the floor ……Boston knew what they had and saw he was a fan favorite and would have to be paid a huge amount of money so they hustled OKC into taking him….Then OKC gave him a huge deal and it is clear that he is garbage. The other commentors do a fine job of pointing out how bad he really is when they break down the stats below. Playing in Boston with KG and the Boys made him look like a beast but he was just all mouth with that stupid chin hair thing. The Thunder should have let him go and paid Harden. Iblaka and Collison are small but hustle and they could have used the money saved to get a better value backup Center. Then they could just go uptempo to start the game, bring Harden off the bench and have him go wild in a regular offense then put KD and Westbrook back in and run some more.

      • j0esixpack - Oct 31, 2012 at 12:14 PM

        You’d probably make a better GM for OKC.

        And I’m not being facetious

  2. eventhorizon04 - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    During the Finals, it wasn’t just the “+/-” stat that favored Collison.

    I saw Collison out-hustle the Heat for rebounds and even beat Chris Bosh off the dribble a couple of time.
    I saw Perkins get left in a cloud of dust whenever he tried to guard Bosh, and contribute little on the offensive end. What’s inexcusable is the fact that Perkins apparently had a groin injury that required offseason surgery. That means Scott Brooks saw that the Heat were playing quick Chris Bosh at Center, and not only chose to play the normally slow-footed Perkins – he chose to play Perkins even though Perkins was dealing with a groin injury that slowed him down even further!

    Anyways, you can justify the decision to keep Perkins as a “Dwight Stopper”, though as the author mentions, I can see Nash-Howard pick-and-rolls shredding Perkins…so Perkins doesn’t look incredibly useful against the Heat or the Lakers (i.e., two of the teams to beat).

    • dal24la - Oct 28, 2012 at 12:28 PM

      Also, the idea of Perkins as a “Dwight Stopper” is a myth.
      Dwight’s averages vs Perkins:
      FGs: 5.8-11.1 (FG%:.523), 16.3ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.8bpg, 8.5fta

      Those numbers go UP in the playoffs:
      FGs: 7-12.5 (55.8%), 18.9ppg, 14.2 rpg, 2.8blk, 9fta

      Those don’t sound like numbers of someone who’s been stopped. Mind you he wasn’t playing with Kobe, Nash, or Gasol to help take the pressure off him.

      • borderline1988 - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:38 PM

        I’m also not a big believer in Perkins, but just to play devil’s advocate to your argument, the point wasn’t to ‘stop’ Howard.
        The key to beating the Magic was always the ability to single-cover Howard and not give up 30 or more. The Magic’s offensive system was built off getting 3pt shooters open once teams double covered Howard.

        That’s where Perkins excelled. He didn’t allow Howard to get good post position, which means Howard got fewer looks at the basket.

        The difference here is that Howard will be running pick and rolls with Nash, rather than just trying to set up post position and play back to the basket. Which will render Perkins even more pointless.

      • dal24la - Oct 29, 2012 at 11:48 AM

        Agreed. Perkins won’t be as effective with Dwight and Nash running the pick and roll.
        And like I said even if Dwight goes to the post, Perkins will likely not have any help since Howard has teammates in Kobe, Gasol and Nash who you can’t leave alone.

  3. lorddarkhelmet - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    If they were really smart about it they would use him as a trade chip’ 9mill a yr is fairly inexpensive for a skilled big man.

    • j0esixpack - Oct 28, 2012 at 3:44 PM

      But is he a skilled big man? On a point and rebound per minute basis Darko Millicic is better than Perk.

      Which in a way is like saying that the Celtics traded Perkins for Green and Perkins

  4. sellahh - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    KG and Rondo made Perkins look like a defensive beast and not-so-terrible offensive player. He just got exposed.
    And Perk is no Dwight stopper, that’s another myth you people like to talk about.

    • tcclark - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      I completely agree. Kendrick Perkins is easily the most over-rated player in the NBA. He offers almost nothing on the offensive end and defensively he gets killed on the pick and roll and offers very little on the help side. He is almost a clone of Kwame Brown, but because of KG and Rondo making him look better in Boston, it has clouded everyone’s judgement of him. Seriously look at the numbers: points, rebounds, blocks, steals, assists, ft%, even advanced statistics like PER, TS%, Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, Win shares, etc. they’re almost identical to Kwame Brown. And the one’s that aren’t identical usually favor Kwame, like Points, FG%, and PER. They’re even almost the exact same size and yet they’re regarded on two completely different levels. Perk starts for a contender while Kwame will see limited time and is the butt end of jokes on a Sixers team with a deep front court.

    • cibolomatt - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:39 AM

      Perk is one if the few players that can check Dwight one on one. I wouldn’t call him a Dwight stopper, but know one checks Dwight like Perk.

  5. tcclark - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    While i completely agree with the fact that Perkins is over valued in this league and all of the wonderfully true things you said about him, this wasn’t all about the money. Getting rid of Perkins would still not allowed them to resign Harden.

    This was about the culture of the Thunder. They have built this culture that no one is above the team. Everyone is expected to take a little less so that the team can remain competitive. Durant signed for less than market value and even agreed to sign a deal without an opt-out clause. Westbrook also signed a deal lower than market value as did Ibaka and even Nick Collison. By signing Harden to a max deal you’re telling all of these guys that what you sold them on was a load of crap; that James Harden is above the rest of the team. He’s the one player that can get market value even though you expect everyone else to take less. By amnestying Perkins to sign Harden to a max deal you’re sending an even worse message – Harden is not only worth a max deal, but he’s also worth losing your center over.

    This wasn’t all about the money. This was a move to maintain the culture that this team was built on. If Harden wasn’t willing to accept his role in that culture than he needed to go. No player is above the team and Harden thought he was.

    • gugurich - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:17 AM

      Where are you getting it that both Durant and Westbrook signed for below market value? You mean in an absolute, free market sense? Because both Durant and Westbrook got as much as they could get in the CBA, they’re max contract players. Durant actually got a pay raise after the new CBA. What a selfish prick for not turning down that money.

      And yes, amnestying Perkins or not having signed him at all would have made signing Harden much more possible. He was as integral to their success last season as Westbrook and Durant was and deserving of the same max pay grade. Without Perkins, OKC wouldn’t be as concerned about the luxury tax ramifications of signing Harden to a max contract.

  6. dalucks - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    That is your opinion so I will respect it even though it is hindsight journalism at its worst. If the Thunder would have keep Jeff Green and given him the extension without being able to extend James Harden then you would have written the article about Jeff Green. At the end of the day, a team can only sign so many players without being over the salary cap.
    I think OKC made a great trade considering they have Kevin Martin, who when healthy scores as much as James Harden in a different style. I said nothing about him being a better player than Harden but Martin is capable of being a 15 point per game scorer off the bench. Jeremy Lamb can be a very good player in the future for OKC. What most people do not realize is Reggie Jackson is a very good scorer and Eric Maynor is the normal backup point guard returning from injury. Plus, Perry Jones could be a great asset for their championship run while he is on his rookie contract so the team has stayed young and competitive without being strapped down by the salary cap.
    Unfortunately, the media pays more attention to the rear view mirror instead of windshield. Please start looking forward instead of wasting time trying to correct a past you cannot change.
    Just saying, a post worth reading with so perspective.
    Post it and enjoy.

  7. someidiotfromouthereintheprojects - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    great article.

  8. illcomm - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    this article is stupid. thru need a center in Perkins and u can’t have three max players. so harden durant and westbrook was never going to happen. once westbrook and durant signed for the max. that was it, harden was out. Sam pulled off an incredible team that will lead them to trur championship three years from now. lakers are pretty mug a shoe in to win it all this year and next barring a major injury. once kobe is out and the spurs are an afterthought. the thunder will reign supreme for the next five years.

    • eventhorizon04 - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:37 AM

      “once kobe is out and the spurs are an afterthought. the thunder will reign supreme for the next five years.”

      1. You’re forgetting about the East – the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are both built to contend for more than the next 2 years (LeBron and Bosh are only 28 years old, and Boston got a lot younger this offseason), and don’t count out the Chicago Bulls (who will have D-Rose at full health in 2013 and plenty of cap room).

      2. So you really think that once Kobe retires, the Lakers will settle for just Dwight Howard and a bunch of role players and not sign anyone for the next 5 years?
      Have you been watching basketball long? 2 years from now, Dwight will only be 28 years old, and the LA Lakers will still be the LA Lakers.
      I have a *hunch* the Lakers won’t have trouble recruiting a max-contract free agent (or 2) to join Dwight in LA, so if your plan is to “bide your time” and hope the Lakers go through a decade-long rebuilding process after Kobe leaves, you’re going to be disappointed.

  9. cibolomatt - Oct 28, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    What did Harden do vs the Heat? That’s right, not make big shots and disappear. The Thunder will be just fine.

    • sdlakerfan - Oct 28, 2012 at 3:38 PM

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Harden’s better than most but not top tier talent. Miami’s great defense exposed that. They made Harden a more than fair offer, 13 mil / yr, and he rejected it. Perkins or no Perkins doesn’t make sense to overpay – it will bite you at some point. Perkins is one of the most intimidating guys in the league which renders the Collison / Darko comparisons moot. I applaud OKC for not letting theses negotiatiions drag on and taint their season and build strength for the future. OKC has proven their brilliance the last few yrs, why doubt them now?

  10. deadeyedesign23 - Oct 28, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    This has everything to do with a team being cheap. I agree it’s ok they don’t wan to pay the luxury tax. Hell neither do the Lakers, but one of the teams fighting for this super punitive tax was OKC. Watching their own bullshit way of artificially suppressing player salaries come back to bite them in the ass makes me happy as hell.

  11. phaden27 - Oct 28, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Of course months ago this was a bad trade by the Celtics.
    Go go media.

  12. fanz928 - Oct 28, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Its not perkin trade his contributions doesn’t show in the stats

  13. 00maltliquor - Oct 28, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    I don’t understand why they couldn’t have just rode out the season to see what would happen. I mean, every year had been a step up, ’08= young, good looking team on the rise, ’09=playoffs, out 1st rd., ’10=2nd rd., ’11=3rd rd, ’12=finals loss. At that rate ’13 would be a Championship. They couldn’t have just played it out, next year cut Perkins bum a$$, and re-signed Harden? Still doesn’t make sence.

    • loungefly74 - Oct 29, 2012 at 12:04 AM

      …and this my friend (it all comes back to ther Lakers…it always does and should…)…is why only a few teams can achieve lengthy greatness. we will see what OKC does but this has to hurt. they did get some quality pieces in return but man…ya messin with chemistry. hmmm…as a Laker fan, i am very cool with this.

  14. 00maltliquor - Oct 28, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    …Then again it’s Sam Presti, probably shouldn’t be questioning his authori-tyyy. *in Cartman voice*

  15. illcomm - Oct 28, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    a lot of these comments are pretty dumb. when someone offers you two first round draft picks, last years first rounded who plays the same spot, u pull the trigger. harden’s contract would have been a distraction thus year and just would have delayed this thing another year. thunder did the smart thing to so it Preseason to build chemistry. thunder would have gone to west finals n then lose to lakers. presti made a great move n this will payoff two years down the road.

  16. rocirius - Oct 28, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    OKC will still win the west after the lakers are upset in the second round. On top of that, the future in OKC looks even brighter and they can still amnesty Perkins if Presti can’t find a buyer for his contract after this season.

  17. illcomm - Oct 28, 2012 at 7:22 PM

    they really don’t need Perkins to be anything but a big body that puts up 10 points and 6 + boards. they have two of the best experts in the league. 9 mil might be slightly high, but come on, lopez got a max contract. Perkins is more durable and better. maybe at some points in the season they could pick up someone like Spencer hawes if need be.

  18. thomaskouns - Oct 28, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    Could it be possible that Oklahoma’s biggest mistake is drafting really really well.

    They are a small market team and as much as they would like to keep Harden basketball is a business and they shouldn’t have to lose money to do it.

    • scalfor3 - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:43 PM

      Exactly. They’re being called “cheap” now because they payed their guys earlier.

  19. 24thesho - Oct 28, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    JEREMY LIN…., you idiot! LIN!!!!

  20. wowwowbad - Oct 29, 2012 at 3:59 AM

    This guy is right, Perkins just don’t fit the current playings style of the Thunder. Defensively He’s very slow and cannot defend the perimeter. Offensively his contribution can be ignored. He is a role player taking borderline-star salary. Although getting Jeremy Lamb is nice, losing a guy like Harden cost OKC more than just scoring.

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