Are the Oklahoma City Thunder contenders now?

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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.

Russell Westbrook out vs. Clippers Friday night, second game he’s missed

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The Thunder offense struggled on opening night, scoring less than a point per possession (96.2 per 100 possessions, to be specific). While the Thunder got out and ran a decent amount, 18.6 percent of their possessions started in transition, they scored just 0.88 points per possession on those chances (stats via Cleaning the Glass). On spot-up jump shots, they shot scored just 0.67 points per possession (via Synergy Sports) and they shot 27.8 percent from three in the part of the game that mattered.

How much of that was the Thunder offense missing their engine in Russell Westbrook, and how much of that was going against the solid defense and length of the Golden State Warriors?

We may find out Friday night because Westbrook is out again, still recovering from arthroscopic surgery on right knee back on Sept. 12. Royce Young of ESPN broke the news.

That means again most of the offense will flow through Paul George, which worked reasonably well but he needs more help from other players. The Clippers’ defense was fairly good opening night, and they played Denver close, but couldn’t score enough and lost a lead down the stretch, dropping their season opener.

What really matters is this gives us another chance to watch Westbrook try to sneak-snack on the bench.

LeBron James: Team chemistry not “like instant oatmeal. It is not that fast.”

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We shouldn’t overreact to the opening night loss for the Lakers in Portland, there were a lot of things in there we should have expected. First, Portland is a superb team led by two All-Stars that is always tough at home. The  Moda Center is never an easy place to win for any team. Second, the shooting woes the Lakers had were too be expected when we looked at the roster, and while it’s going to be a lingering problem all season they will have better nights than 7-of-30 from three and 0-of-7 from the corners.

However, the biggest takeaway is this: The Lakers lacked continuity and chemistry, and in a one-point game in the fourth (101-100) that really started to show, while the Trail Blazers are primarily the same team running primarily the same system, and their chemistry fueled the win.

That also shouldn’t be a surprise. So LeBron James, how long is it going to take for the Lakers to find that chemistry? (As reported by Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN).

“Um, not as fast as you guys think it’s going to happen,” James said when asked how long it will take for the Lakers’ chemistry to develop. “I always kind of compare it to like instant oatmeal. It is not that fast. It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are.”

LeBron has history on his side here. Both when he went to Miami to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and when he returned to Cleveland, his teams got off to slow starts as they figured out their team chemistry. It takes player a while to adjust to playing with LeBron — who was working hard to set his Laker teammates Thursday rather than just taking over — and for him to adjust to them. Both those Cleveland and Miami teams went on to the NBA Finals.

The difference is this is the West and there is almost no margin for error, and early struggles could cost the Lakers’ playoff seeding. Or more.

Shirtless man berates Bulls center Cristiano Felicio on Philadelphia street: ‘You ain’t no Michael Jordan’

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Cristiano Felicio didn’t play in the Bulls’ loss to the 76ers last night.

But the center made an appearance in Philadelphia.

Josh Haber:

Plenty of well-articulated points here that are worth thoughtfully considering.

Steve Kerr: “I support Colin Kaepernick 100 percent,” says true patriotism is helping others

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If you’ve seen or heard Steve Kerr talking politics in the past few years, it’s no surprise the Warriors coach has Colin Kaepernick’s back — he’s blasted the NFL’s national anthem policy before

Kerr once again threw his support behind Kaepernick during a wide-ranging interview with Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area, which can only be seen in full on the new NBC Sports My Teams app (you can see part of the interview video above).

“I support Colin Kaepernick 100 percent, and I think he deserves a chance to play,” Kerr said to NBC Sports Bay Area. “And I was happy see Eric Reid was picked up recently — Kap’s teammate who also knelt last year. So I support their right to play.”

Earlier in the same interview, Kerr shared his qualms with the militaristic and nationalistic displays before sporting events. What if the NBA just did away with the anthem before games completely?

“It wouldn’t bother me. I’m not for it, nor against it,” Kerr said. “I believe patriotism is about doing something good for others, for other Americans. That’s the best way to be patriotic, to get out and volunteer and help others. That’s what drives me crazy about the uproar over the NFL players who have knelt in a fight for social justice. So many of them have given so much to their communities — given not just money but time. I read a lot about Malcolm Jenkins in Philadelphia and what he’s done in his community. And Chris Long. And people like Colin Kaepernick who have given a million dollars to charity.

“I’m so proud of so many athletes who are out there in their communities, knowing the power they have and the financial resources they have to make a change. That’s patriotism to me. The anthem is just kind of a symbol for that.”

The NBA has not faced the same national anthem issues as the NFL because no NBA players have taken a knee (they have locked arms on some teams). There are a lot of reasons for that, most of which have nothing to do with politics (or even the NBA’s rule that players “stand and line up in a dignified posture” during the anthem). For the NBA it’s more about  Commissioner Adam Silver and owners encouraging players to speak out on social issues, making the players feel heard (and cutting off the problem before it blew up). Besides, the player/owner power balance is different in the NBA than NFL, no NBA owner would dare cross a superstar player that way (the free agent backlash would be sharp). Of course, the biggest reason is the NBA’s core demographic is younger, more diverse, and more urban (read: bluer) than the NFL’s, and if an NBA player kneeled there would not be the same kind of vitriol from the fan base. Most would just agree.

However, protesting during the anthem is an issue that still hovers over the NFL. While Kerr wants to see Kaepernick get a chance to play, as a former general manager himself he understands why it has not happened (and it’s not about anything on the field).

“I also see this entire media frenzy that surrounds it,” Kerr said. “And if I’m a GM of a team, I know the minute I sign Colin Kaepernick, it’s like signing Tim Tebow. Or it’s like signing, you know, one of the Ball brothers. And that’s probably a bad analogy. But it’s going to come with a storm. So even if your heart’s in the right place, and you go, ‘You know what? This is all BS,’ I want my team to be able to function. And I want to bring in a backup quarterback. But I don’t want a news conference every single day. I could see a GM going, ‘Man, I don’t really want to deal with that.’ That’s modern media. That’s modern American life.”

Kerr plans to keep using his platform to speak out on American life. And some basketball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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