Oklahoma City’s big mistake was Perkins trade, extension


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.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win

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The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.