Kendrick Perkins, James Harden

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.

Former NBA player Paul Shirley: ‘Of course’ John Wall and Bradley Beal dislike each other.

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 21:  John Wall #2 and Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards react in the final seconds of their 117-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on March 21, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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John Wall and Bradley Beal admitted they clash on the court.

That caused controversy as the outside world expressed dismay at the Wizards guards’ attitudes.

Paul Shirley – who played for the Hawks, Bulls and Suns from 2003-05 – shrugged.

Paul Shirley on NBA.com:

What I learned, when I got to the NBA, was that my dreams of fraternity were naïve ones. I sat in locker rooms where players barely spoke to one another. I endured team plane rides where one guy stared daggers at the next because of a contract dispute.

Consequently, I barely batted an eye at the recent “revelation” that Bradley Beal and John Wall don’t much like one another.

Of course they don’t like each other, I thought. That’s just the way it is.

This is a secret of the NBA: Not all teammates get along. Some are friends, but many are just coworkers – and consider your relationship with your coworkers. Frequent travel for work and the closed-off nature of locker rooms can push players toward forging bonds – but those conditions can also magnify any rifts.

In theory, Wall (a slashing passer) and Beal (an outside shooter) should complement each other well. But it’d be hard to find a team where each of the top two scorers doesn’t believe he should get more shots.

The successful teams manage that tension productively. They can convince each player to accept a role, sacrifice and contain his displeasures.

Maybe the Wizards can get there.

But that – not a fantasy friendship between Wall and Beal – should be the goal.

Report: Lance Stephenson to work out for Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 30:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks to pass the ball around Lance Stephenson #1 of the Indiana Pacers at the New Orleans Arena on October 30, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Two years ago, Lance Stephenson was 23 years old and nearly an All-Star.

Now, he’s stuck trying out for a team without an open regular-season roster spot.

Brett Dawson of The Advocate:

The Pelicans have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries plus Chris Copeland, Robert Sacre and Shawn Dawson on unguaranteed deals.

In other words, Stephenson is trying out just to enter a competition for a roster vacancy that doesn’t even exist.

New Orleans has taken major steps to add perimeter help this summer, drafting Buddy Hield and signing E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway and Solomon Hill. If he somehow makes the team, Stephenson likely wouldn’t make the rotation, even with Tyreke Evans injured.

Still, Stephenson is just 25, and he showed major talent with the Pacers just two years ago. He made positive contributions to the Grizzlies last season, too.

But a disastrous stint with the Hornets and an underwhelming run with the Clippers weigh down his résumé.

Stephenson probably did enough in Memphis to prove he still has NBA-caliber ability. More than anything, he’ll have to convince the Pelicans – and other potential suitors – he has the right attitude to work in the league.

Phil Jackson says his goal for Knicks last season was 35 wins

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Phil Jackson predicted the playoffs for the Knicks in 2014-15, and he’s again drumming up postseason buzz for 2016-17.

Between, he was much more cautious.

The Knicks president didn’t make any bold proclamations entering last season. But, somewhat after the fact, he revealed his goal for the team.

Jackson in a March interview with Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak that was published this month:

I’m also still hopeful that we can win the 35 games I had said was our goal before the season. That would be a vast improvement. More than twice the number that we won last year. We need to go 7-5 to get there.

“I know the guys don’t care about winning 35. They’re not marking it as their own goal. They just feel better about winning.

That’s a pretty pathetic aspiration – and the Knicks still didn’t meet it. They finished 32-50.

Jackson can say the players didn’t care about 35 wins, and they probably didn’t. It’s hard to see Carmelo Anthony appreciating aiming so low (though he might not resent it enough, which is anther issue).

But part of Jackson’s job is setting a tone for the organization. If he’s shooting for merely nearing mediocrity, that trickles down.

Jackson said entering the season he changed the Knicks’ culture. I’m not nearly as convinced.

51Q: Will returning home to Atlanta rejuvenate Dwight Howard?

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets waits on the court before the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Toyota Center on November 27, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Will returning home to Atlanta rejuvenate Dwight Howard?

It’s hard to remember an NBA star whose perception has changed as much in five years as Dwight Howard’s has. He hasn’t really helped matters — his messy exits from the Magic and Lakers, as well as his rumored feud with James Harden in Houston and declining production due to injuries have clearly lowered his standing. It’s easy to forget that five years ago, he was a three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, legitimate MVP candidate and had recently been the best player on a team that went to the Finals.

As insane as it is to think about, the three-year deal Howard signed with his hometown Atlanta Hawks this summer is something of a reclamation project for a once-perennial All-NBA player. And the Hawks may be the perfect situation for him to rehabilitate his career.

From a pure talent standpoint, Howard in 2016 is a downgrade from Al Horford, who left Atlanta for Boston in free agency. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer’s system is predicated on spacing, and Howard offensively is useless from outside five feet. But he does undeniably fill holes. Last season, the Hawks were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, with the third-lowest rebound rate, per NBA.com. Rebounding is one of the things that Howard can still do consistently at an elite level.

Howard also brings enormous value as a pick-and-roll finisher, when he wants to accept that role. In Los Angeles and Houston, he was still under the impression that his best use was as a post-up big, likely in large part due to Shaquille O’Neal’s nonstop criticisms of his game on Inside the NBA.

If Howard is willing to play the pick-and-roll and doesn’t demand touches, he can still be an impact player in Atlanta. The hope would be that after leaving three teams on bad terms, Howard accepts that at this point in his career, he isn’t a first option on offense anymore, and he’s willing to play a role similar to what Tyson Chandler was on the Mavericks’ 2011 title team: a rebounder and rim protector who feasts offensively on putback dunks and scores in the pick and roll.

If Howard can do that, the Hawks have enough talent to stay in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference despite losing Horford. They have other question marks on their roster — they still haven’t found a full-time replacement for DeMarre Carroll, and the transition from the just-traded Jeff Teague to Dennis Schroder is going to be rocky.

But they have the pieces, the coach and the culture for Howard to be successful in Atlanta if he wants to be.