Oklahoma City’s big mistake was Perkins trade, extension

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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.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”

Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone suspended one game for confronting referee

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Denver coach Mike Malone decided if he was going to get tossed and fined/suspended, he was going to get his money’s worth.

During the second quarter of the Nuggets’ Sunday loss to the Lakers, Malone ran onto the court during play to argue a no-call on a play by Nikola Jokic around the basket. Malone furiously confronted referee Rodney Mott, who swiftly ejected the coach. As he should. Malone was suspended one game for “entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official,” the league announced. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets face the Kings in Sacramento.

Mott also tossed Jokic when he entered the argument Sunday night, but the NBA rescinded the ejection saying Jokic earned a technical but should not have been thrown out. A lot of good that does the Nuggets now, who had to go more than half the game without their best player and lost (not that he changes the outcome of the game, but a comeback is less likely without him).

 

 

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.