Thunder sign Semaj Christon


On Saturday, the Oklahoma City Thunder signed guard Semaj Christon. The 2014 2nd rounder played last season with Consultinvest VL Pesaro of Lega Basket Serie A, the top professional league in Italy. While there, he averaged 14.3 points, 3.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.6 steals in 33.2 minutes of playing time. Previous to that, he spent his first two professional seasons with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the Blue. In addition, he has also been a member of the Thunder’s summer league team the last three seasons.

The 6’3″ point guard out of Xavier has shown a penchant for getting into the lane and causing havoc once he gets there. His sturdy frame and long arms allow him to finish in traffic, while his floor game allows him to find teammates for higher percentage shots. His jumper, while not the best, has improved over the past 3 seasons to the point where he has a pretty solid mid-range game.

With the signing of Ronnie Price earlier this offseason, the Thunder’s roster currently sits at 15 guaranteed contracts, with 3 of those contracts belonging to point guards (Russell Westbrook, Cameron Payne, and Price). So why did the Thunder sign Christon, if their roster is already at max capacity with contracts and points guards? The reasoning for that could be two-fold. Number one, the Thunder don’t appear to be done wheeling and dealing. The roster, as it currently stands, is a weird mixture of bruising big men, offensively challenged wings, and athletic guards who aren’t great at shooting. They have a sizable expiring contract in Ersan Ilyasova, and a young big they may be ready to move on from in Mitch McGary. If the right deal comes along, they could also feature Payne, who could net something substantial from a point guard starved team.

The second reason for signing Christon is to play the long game with him. While his contract can’t be guaranteed because of the Thunder’s 15 other commitments, there could be guaranteed money attached to it if he gets waived before the season starts. Then the Thunder could sign Christon to the Blue and see how the season plays out in terms of roster moves. If the trade deadline leaves the Thunder with an open roster spot, you can almost guarantee that spot will go to Christon. Another issue that is clouding the water in terms of Christon’s future is whether Price’s 2nd year is fully guaranteed.

If anything, the Thunder have secured themselves another weapon to throw at guard happy teams, while maintaining roster flexibility. Christon’s strength and wing-span could make him an asset on the defensive end of the floor, similar to what the Thunder saw from Dion Waiters in the playoffs last season. And while Christon’s offensive repertoire may not necessarily be what the Thunder need, it’s not like he’s offensively challenged. In the end, his contract is not currently guaranteed, and the Thunder have time to see how everything plays out in these next two months before the season starts.

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Posted in News, Offseason Beat

Oklahoma City Thunder acquire Randy Foye from the Denver Nuggets


The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Randy Foye from the Denver Nuggets on the trade deadline. The Thunder gave up DJ Augustin, Steve Novak, and both of their 2016 2nd round picks (theirs and Charlotte’s, which was acquired in the Jeremy Lamb trade this past offseason). In Foye, the Thunder get a combo guard who is a good (not great) defender and someone who can knock down open shots. This season, Foye is averaging 6 points and 2.1 assists in nearly 20 minutes of action per game. He is shooting only 29.6% from deep, but has shot 37% from that distance over his career. He shoots much better when he is wide open. He rarely got that opportunity in Denver, but will get a lot more looks in Oklahoma City with attention grabbers like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the floor.

The Thunder’s M.O. is usually to have three point guards on the roster. Foye is a good enough ball-handler to be a 3rd string point guard, while also being a good enough shooter to be a spacer off the bench. He will help the bench unit defensively and will add another ball-handler to that line-up. But his biggest value may be as a go-between for Cameron Payne as he gains experience in this, his rookie season. Payne has performed well this season, but when the lights were brightest (the Warriors game) he looked wide-eyed and shaky. Which is exactly what you’d expect from a rookie. The Thunder trust Payne, but if the stage gets too big for him come April, Foye is the perfect back-up plan to bridge the gap between this season and next season.

Many people will pan this trade, but I thought it was a good play by the Thunder. Augustin and Novak were out of the rotation and on expiring deals. Instead of just sitting on that, the Thunder decided to get a player that could possibly have an impact in the near future who was also on an expiring deal. In addition, the move generated a $3.75 million dollar traded player exception (TPE) and opened up a valuable roster spot for the Thunder.

That roster spot could be used on a buyout candidate later in the season. Names that have been thrown out as buy-0ut candidates are Kevin Martin, Joe Johnson, Lance Stephenson, and Andrea Bargnani. Players that won’t necessarily take over a starting spot, but could play a role for a playoff team.

In addition to the roster spot, the move also shaves off over $8 million dollars from the Thunder luxury tax bill. There was never going to be a move that brought the Thunder above the tax line. But any move that could lessen the blow a bit was always welcomed.

In the end, the Thunder felt they were good enough to stand where they currently were. The addition of Foye could prove to be the type of move that helps them against a Golden State in the postseason or it could just be a lateral move where the Thunder traded away two end of the bench players for another end of the bench player. Either way, what the Thunder received outside of Foye (the roster spot, the TPE, the smaller tax bill) could have bigger ramifications for the Thunder moving forward.

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Posted in News, Trade Talk

2016 Oklahoma City Thunder Trade Prospectus

dj augustin thunder

With a couple days left before the trading deadline, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit with the third best record in the NBA, and are 1 of 3 teams with at least 40 wins at the All-Star break. That would usually be great for most years. But this season, the two teams with better records than the Thunder are 1) in the same conference and 2) on historic win paces. Any move the Thunder make during the trade deadline will be with these two teams in mind.

As currently constructed, the Thunder are better equipped to deal with the San Antonio Spurs than the Golden State Warriors. They match up well position for position, and have the athleticism to give the Spurs problems. The Warriors on the other hand, present a different set of problems for the Thunder. Their penchant for scoring from the outside has baffled every team in the league. The Thunder have a habit of letting teams beat them from the outside, but for some reason, they have defended the Warriors reasonably well over the past two seasons.

When it comes to trades, its always about what a team needs and what a team is willing to offer. The Thunder were extremely busy before and during the trade deadline last season, acquiring Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, DJ Augustin, and Kyle Singler. All five players are still on the roster this season, with Kanter and Singler signing multiyear extensions in the offseason. In addition to the players the Thunder gave up to acquire that quintet, they also gave up two first round picks in the process. Those first rounders are lottery protected and likely will be honored within the next three years if the Thunder can keep their core together. With all that said, here’s a look at a couple of the assets the Thunder have in tow.


1. Serge Ibaka

Trading Ibaka this season is highly unlikely. He’s the third cog in the Thunder’s Big 3 and has been there from the beginning of the run. But while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook  have expanded their games to become two of the best players in the league, Ibaka, for all his tools, has never been able to consistently put it all together. Be it the low basketball IQ or the fact that Ibaka may not be as young as his counterparts, the time for Ibaka on the Thunder may be numbered. While he hasn’t necessarily been injury-prone throughout his career, he does appear to be slowing down. His rebound and block numbers are the lowest they’ve been since his rookie season. His overall FG% is under 50% for the 2nd straight season, after starting off his first 5 seasons above the median line.

In addition, three factors are working against Ibaka remaining in the current position he is in after this season. First, the style of play in the current NBA has negated the need for a shot blocker. Remember when the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, and Spurs were the class of the NBA in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s? It was all because of the big man position. Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan were all extremely influential in their teams’ runs to the Finals during that period in time. The Thunder, trying to get to that position of power, decided to trade Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins. Not only did the trade give the Thunder a defensive post player, but it also opened the door for Ibaka to become the premier shot-blocker in the league. Well, those days are gone. The pace and space NBA has basically eliminated the need for a premier post defender. Elite wing defenders are where the money is now.

Secondly, in keeping with the fact that the NBA is changing, so too have positions changed. The traditional view of power forwards and centers no longer works in this new NBA. In its stead, successful teams are now starting to trot out bigger small forwards to play the power forward position. What a team may lose on the block, it may gain on the offensive end with more 3’s and transition buckets. Kevin Durant began his career as an oversized two guard, but eventually settled into his more natural position of small forward when Scott Brooks became the Thunder’s head coach. Through the years, the natural progression of an athlete’s body has allowed Durant to get a little bit thicker as he has aged. That increase in weight has allowed Durant to not only play in the post more as an offensive player, but also to better defend post players on the other end of the floor. Shifting Durant to PF permanently wouldn’t be that big of a jump for the Thunder. He’s already leading the team in rebounding and is second on the team in blocks per game at 1.2.

Thirdly, Steven Adams has become the prototypical post player for this new NBA. Someone who is athletic enough to patrol the entire paint, but also strong enough to play the enforcer role. He’s younger and more mobile than Ibaka, and he comes at a much cheaper price, for now. That’s where the decision will come into play after this season. Adams still has one more year left on his rookie deal after this season, but the Thunder have first dibs on an extension after this season. Adams will likely command a salary upwards of $12 million. Ibaka comes up for free agency the same year Westbrook does. If the Thunder are able to keep both Durant and Westbrook, they’ll be no way they can also keep Ibaka and Adams.

Again, I’m not saying it’ll happen this season. But Ibaka’s $12.25 million dollar salary may be useful if a jackpot deal pops up. And if that deals becomes availalbe, the team may think long and hard about trading Air Congo.

2. Expiring Contracts (DJ Augustin and Steve Novak)

The Thunder have a couple expiring contracts that may come into play during the trade deadline. DJ Augustin and Steve Novak are both on the final year of their deals, while Dion Waiters is on the final guaranteed year of his rookie contract. If Waiters is traded, the team he is traded to will have the right to match any offer Waiters is given in the offseason. But Waiters plays a big role on the Thunder as a multifaceted guard and will likely remain in that role throughout the season.

The Thunder are in a bit of a precarious situation with Augustin. His $3 million dollar salary may be useful in a trade, but the Thunder have to make sure they get a veteran point guard either via trade or as a buy-out signee. If the Thunder trade Augustin without getting another another veteran point guard, they risk heading into the postseason with rookie Cameron Payne as their only other option behind Russell Westbrook. While Payne has been good, the Warriors’ game showed that the postseason lights could a little too bright at this moment for the first year player out of little Murray State. The Thunder may just keep Augustin around as the veteran third string point guard.

Novak, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to be moved by the deadline. His $3.75 million dollar contract is big enough to fetch a player of value for the Thunder. But also, the Thunder may just trade him to a team that needs salary in order to have an empty roster spot for a buy-out candidate, such as Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin.

3. Mitch McGary

The second year big man showed a lot of promise in the offseason and preseason. But a concussion in the preseason kept him out of the final week of practice heading into the season opener, and he has yet to find his footing in the rotation this season. McGary may be the Thunder’s most attractive asset as a young big on a cheap rookie scale contract. But that may also be the reason the Thunder keep him.

4. Multiple 2nd rounders and trade exceptions

This year, the Thunder have their own 2nd rounder and, likely, Charlotte’s 2nd rounder, which is protected for picks 56-60. In addition, the Thunder still have their 2nd round pick for 2017 and Memphis’ 2nd rounder for that year also (protected 31-35, unprotected in 2018). Second round picks are good filler for trades involving players that bring little to nothing to the table. For example, if the Thunder trade Steve Novak to the Trailblazers as a salary dump, then attaching a 2nd round pick will probably make it worth the Blazer’s while to take on Novak’s salary for the last 2 months of the season.

In addition to the 2nd round picks, the Thunder also have two trade exceptions. The Jeremy Lamb trade exception is worth $2.13 million and the Luke Ridnour trade exception is worth $2.85 million. While those amounts are relatively small, if a team is looking to unload one of their younger players without taking on salary, a trade exception may be the way to go.

5.  Alex Abrines

The Thunder own the rights to the 22 year old Spanish guard who is currently averaging 8 points per game on 41% shooting from 3-point territory for one of the premier teams in Europe, FC Barcelona. He is signed through 2019, but has a buyout clause. He lacks the athleticism to be a regular rotation player in the NBA, but would be a good addition as a 3-point specialist (a la Anthony Morrow) for a team that may need perimeter scoring in the future.

For as good as the Thunder have been this season, they still have holes that can be filled to further contend with the top teams in the league. Here’s a look at some of the areas of the need the Thunder could possibly fill.


1. 3 and D player

In this new NBA, the premier role player is that of a 3 and D wing. The Thunder have about 4 players in their rotation that masquerade as 3-and-D wings. The only problem is that those that are good at 3-point shooting (Anthony Morrow) struggle on defense, and those that excel at defense (Andre Roberson and Kyle Singler) struggle at consistently hitting their perimeter shots. The only player on the roster that qualifies as a viable 3-and-D wing is Dion Waiters, and he is great at neither.

Keeping up with the Warriors and Spurs of the league necessitates a team to have players that can be effective on both ends of the floor. The two players most commonly associated with the Thunder for this position are PJ Tucker of the Phoenix Suns and Courtney Lee of the Memphis Grizzlies. Both players are in the $5.5 million dollar range and could be had for an expiring and either McGary or Josh Huestis.

Some other surprising candidates may be Mirza Teletovic of the Phoenix Suns ($5.5 million) and Ben McLemore ($3.16 million) of the Sacramento Kings. Thunder GM Sam Presti has a habit of running misdirection plays where everyone in the media thinks he’s going one way, but he ends up going an entirely different direction (think last year with the Brook Lopez/Enes Kanter trade deadline happenings). While Teletovic is a bit too big to be a wing, he does bring the “3” part of the equation with him. He would allow the Thunder to stay big, while going small (Teletovic at 3, KD at 4, and Serge/Adams/Kanter at 5). McLemore would fall in line as a Presti reclamation project. The third year guard has never lived up to his No. 7 draft selection and has seemingly fallen out of favor in Sacramento. He came into the league as a player that could possibly be a good 3-and-D wing. Unfortunately, he has been inconsistent on both ends of the floor. McLemore could be a good replacement for Waiters if he bolts for greener pastures in the offseason.

Another name to watch out for is Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic. This one would probably require Serge Ibaka to move the needle enough for Orlando to make that trade. This one is likely not to occur this season.

2. Veteran Back-up Point Guard

If the Thunder plan to use DJ Augustin’s expiring contract in any of their trades, they would also need to obtain a veteran back-up point guard to buffer any of the inexperience Cam Payne would bring to the playoffs. A couple options are Michael Carter-Williams of the Milwaukee Bucks and Darren Collison of the Sacramento Kings. Carter-Williams is a big point guard that is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor. But his inconsistent jumper and being turnover prone continue to affect his play on the court. In addition, there are rumors that MCW isn’t really the easiest guy to get along with in the locker room. These are probably all reasons why the former Rookie of the Year could possibly end up on his third team in three years.

Darren Collison has been one of the best back-up point guards in the league. If Sacramento is indeed having a fire sale and looking to build for next season, then Collison may be one of the players that could be had from them. Unfortunately for the Thunder, he has another year left on his contract after this one. The Thunder really like Payne and getting Collison could stunt his development into next season.

3. Empty Roster Spot/Lower Tax Bill

The Thunder may eschew taking on another player in favor of just trading one or both of their expiring contracts in a salary dump to open up roster spots. Empty roster spots can be very valuable during this time of year. The buy-out market begins once the trading deadline has passed. Players like Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin, and Andrea Bargnani are a few of the names mentioned that will likely be bought out after the trade deadline. While none of those players would likely be a regular rotation player for the Thunder, they could be great in a specialist role off the bench. In addition, the Thunder have a couple players on their D-League team that could have some value to the Thunder. JP Tokoto has been good as a wing for the Blue, averaging 12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Tomislav Zubcic, who was a late addition to the Blue roster from his native Croatia, has been averaging 8 points on 42.6% shooting from deep this season.

In addition, the Thunder currently sit about $12.4 million dollars over the luxury tax line. It’s a given they will pay the tax for a second straight season. But being that much over would mean the Thunder would have to pay out about $22 million. If they can lower their bill, it would be that much less the Thunder  has to pay out to the rest of the teams that aren’t over the luxury tax.

While the Thunder don’t seem to have the assets to do something big, if they feel this is the right time to pull the trigger on something, they may do it. Durant’s upcoming free agency and the fact that the Thunder are in the thick of things as far as contention goes, may sway them to do something outside the ordinary. As is the case usually with the trade deadline, all everyone is waiting for is for the first domino to fall.

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Posted in Trade Talk

Live from Thunder media day…

OKC media day

I was given the great opportunity by VAVEL to attend the opening media day for the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. It was a brand new experience for myself, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I was able to see some of the players take their official pictures that will be used as signature fodder for the rest of the season. And I was able to sit in on all the player and coach interviews. I got to finally meet Royce Young, ESPN NBA writer and founder of Royce is someone who I’ve admired throughout the years and someone who’s work I great respect. I got to meet Chuck Chaney, founder of He and I have always had a great relationship on Twitter, and it was good to finally meet him in person. I met some of my Latino brethren through the Telemundo affiliate in Oklahoma City. Most importantly though, after four years of having this website, I finally got to be a part of the media.

I will now be writing mainly for You may see some personal content on here, but I’ll mainly be on VAVEL. They have given me a great opportunity to be a managing editor for their Thunder page, and it is an opportunity that I could not pass up. I will still keep the website updated and you will still be able to see all of my work, which will be linked through VAVEL.

Here is my transcript of the different player interviews:

Media Day

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Posted in News, Offseason Beat

The Oklahoma City Thunder debut their new orange alternates

westbrook collison durant ibaka orange alternates

For years, Oklahoma City Thunder fans have been clamoring for an alternate uniform that featured more than a blue palette. Maybe something with a bright color to it, or an artistic rendition to the Thunder shield, or a play on the Oklahoma City moniker (OKC). Instead, they have been treated to alternates that have been bland and a bit too safe. The purpose of an alternate jersey is to feature something that is different than the original.

The Thunder’s home uniforms have always been there best. The classic blue lettering with the orange trim lends itself very nicely to most color schemes (jeans, khakis, etc) and looks very good on HD TV screens. The away blue jersey have a classic coloring to them, but the 12 white letters on the front of the jersey (OKLAHOMA CITY) are a bit much in terms of style.

Three years ago the Thunder debuted their first alternate jersey. The navy blue jersey looked retro in nature with the team name written down right side. The jersey had mixed reactions, with many liking the simplicity of the jersey, while also criticizing that simplicity for being too safe for the franchise’s first alternate jersey.

Last season, the Thunder introduced their shirt-jersey (“shirsey”). Used exclusively at home, the shirt-jersey finally made use of the OKC moniker, placing it in front of the Thunder shield. The shirt-jersey borrows from the classic-ness of the home whites, but suffers from the fact that it’s a shirt-jersey.

cameron payne thunder

Throughout the summer, there have been rumors of an orange alternate in the brewing for the Thunder. Uniform hawks began doing their sleuthing and discovered possible rendering of the orange alternates. Finally, three days before training camp began for the Thunder, the team and players started dropping clues through social media. Kyle Singler shared a photo through his Instagram account in Friday morning showing a piece of orange jersey fabric. The Thunder shared an Instagram photo showing an orange jersey with the number 0 on it. Finally, the team shared a photo through all of their medias showing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison sporting the new orange alternates.

Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of Sales and Marketing, stated, “This new uniform not only features another of our primary team colors, it also reinforces the strong connection our team has to our hometown and home state.” The jersey, given the nickname “Sunset”, will have the OKC moniker written on the front in navy blue. The Thunder will debut the jersey at home on November 1ST against the Denver Nuggets, and will wear them 17 more times this upcoming season. They’ll be worn 10 times at home and 8 times on the road.

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Posted in News, Offseason Beat

The Three That Will Never Be: The Legacies of Scott Brooks, Kendrick Perkins, and Derek Fisher

ibaka perkins durant fisher thunder

As the Oklahoma City Thunder embark on a new season, some of the same things from the past still remains. First off, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook should all be back and healthy. Secondly, the expectations of winning a championship will also be there. But for some reason this season feels different. Not a bad different, just a “lack of familiarity” type different. Something was missing, and that something was three component that had been a part of the Thunder for all or parts for their 7 seasons in Oklahoma City. Those three components were Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins, and Scott Brooks.

For 7 seasons prior, one or more of those pieces were always there to provide an anchor of calmness even in the most choppiest of seas. For the first time since the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City, neither of those three will be a part of the Thunder organization. From the time Scott Brooks took over for PJ Carlesimo on November 22, 2008, the organization has relied on his calming demeanor and almost fatherly-like approach to the development of the stars of the team. That approach to coaching is one of the reasons Brooks will be highly sought after once he decides to return to coaching. Teams are always in one of three phases in their developments: rebuilding, learning how to win consistently, and contending for a championship. Brooks mastered the first two phases of that process with relative ease, taking the Thunder from one of the worst teams in the league to championship contending in a four year span. That type of ascension is almost unheard of without the help of a superstar free agent being signed by the team.

What Brooks lacked in coaching acumen, he made up for with his interpersonal relationships with his players. Say what you want about his late-game play calling, but the players on the team would run through a wall for Brooks. Many in the media heap praise upon Phil Jackson for his career, but Jackson was never known as a great X’s and O’s coach. He had great assistants (Tex Winters, Jim Cleamons), and more importantly, great players. But he was also one of the best at managing superstar egos, which falls under the realm of interpersonal relationships. Brooks could have had a Jackson-like career, but lacked great assistants, and his great players were just coming into their prime during his tenure. Instead, Brooks will likely have a Doug Collins-like career as a coach that could have been one of the greats, but just happened to be the coach at the wrong time.

When the Thunder were starting their ascension, most of the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference had All-Star or near All-Star level centers and power forwards. The Los Angeles Lakers had Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. San Antonio had Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Memphis had Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Dallas had Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brendan Haywood. Utah had Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. To contend in the Western Conference at that time, a team needed a big body in the middle that could defend and rebound. In their early run, the Thunder had a front line of Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, and an “even skinnier than he is now” Kevin Durant. They had Serge Ibaka on the bench, but he was still pretty raw during that time and had trouble keeping his fouls under control. It wasn’t until the Thunder met the Lakers in the inaugural playoff run in 2010 that they realized what they needed to continue the upward trend of the team’s development.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 09: Head coach Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder talks with Russell Westbrook #0 and Kevin Durant #35 against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The Thunder won 118-112. 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

At the trade deadline the next season, the Thunder traded Green and Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Even though Perkins was coming off a serious knee injury he suffered in the previous season’s Finals, he was the defensive anchor the team so badly needed. A couple weeks after arriving in Oklahoma City, the Thunder extended Perkins for four more seasons. Perkins immediately became the veteran presence the Thunder’s young players needed. He graciously helped in the development of Ibaka, taking his own experience from when Kevin Garnett took him under his wing in Boston and applying that to Ibaka. He gave the team a mean streak they didn’t have before his arrival. He quickly became the locker room buffering agent between all the Thunder’s young players as they learned how to succeed in the NBA individually and as a team (a major downfall of many young, up and coming teams in the past).

He was a great locker room presence. And if he was getting paid $5 million or less, that would have been fine. But in actuality, he was one of the highest paid players on the team and his performance on the court, especially on the offensive end, was often one of the most polarizing themes in sports. The knee injury he suffered while with the Celtics in the Finals the year before sapped the little bit of athleticism Perkins had going for him. While he was one of the best post defenders in the league, he was often a net negative on offense. As the NBA’s moved towards smaller, more skilled line-ups that could space the floor, the effectiveness of Perkins on the floor became more and more muted with each passing season.  When athletic power forwards started masquerading as centers, the need for a hulking presence down low became almost non-existant.

Compounding the polarization of Perkins was the trade of James Harden to Houston. Many thought the reason the Thunder traded Harden was purely financial, as they couldn’t afford to have 4 players on max or near max salaries (Harden, Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka), along with Perkins’ $9 million annual salary. In addition to the trade itself, the fact the Thunder had the opportunity to waive Perkins under the amnesty provision, provided the framework for the “Thunder choosing Perkins over Harden” frame of thought that many in the media portrayed. In reality, the Harden trade had little to nothing to do with Perkins. Harden wanted to have his cake and eat it too, wanting max money and the opportunity to run his own team.

In the end, Perkins was relegated to being a back-up big in his final season with the Thunder before being traded to Utah for Enes Kanter. His tenure with the Thunder will forever be remembered for his defensive chops, menacing scowl, and “Shaq-tin a fool” moments. But his presence on the team forever shaped the maturation of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka. He helped navigate them through their first few seasons of success and kept them even-keeled.

The signing of a veteran is a rite of passage for a team that is moving into championship contending status. A veteran that has been where the players on the team want to be and has played a big part in previous championship games. That veteran for the Thunder was Derek Fisher. At the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Thunder lost back-up point guard Eric Maynor to a torn ACL. The only other point guard on the roster, besides Westbrook, was rookie Reggie Jackson. The Thunder managed for half a season with the rookie taking on back-up point guard duties, but when the opportunity arose to sign a waived Fisher, they pounced on the opportunity. Fisher paid almost immediate dividends as a calming, veteran presence and as a floor spacer.

Fisher went on to be part of the Thunder for the next two seasons after that one. He basically played the same role in each of the seasons as he attempted to capture that elusive 6th championship ring. Fisher never got that ring, but became, a lot like Perkins, a revered and respected figure in the locker room. A championship point guard his entire career, Fisher went on to retire and immediately became the head coach of the New York Knicks who were being run by Fisher’s former coach, Phil Jackson.

There’s a point in every player’s maturation where they eventually become the veteran. They become the guy that “has been there before” or “has seen it all before”. The Thunder brass probably felt like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka were ready to take the next leg of their journey on their own. They had grown under the watchful guise of Brooks, under the sturdy hand of Perkins, and under the guiding presence of Fisher to become what they are today. Sure they’ve faced some injury difficulties along the way, but those also have a way of toughening up a players’ resolve.

As fans, we always cheer for the superstars. But true fans cheer for the guys who make it despite their obvious flaws. The guys who are the bedrock over which championship sod is laid upon. There’s a sense of commonality between those players and someone who works a 9-5 and goes home everyday to a family and a mortgage. There’s a very real possibility the Thunder win a championship without any of those three guys within the organization. If that does occur, three of those championship rings better be sealed in a box and delivered to New York, NY (Fisher), Beaumont, TX (Perkins), and northern California (Brooks), because the DNA of any Thunder championship will definitely have the imprint of those three on it.

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Posted in Offseason Beat, Random Thoughts

Russell Westbrook on Live! with Kelly and Michael

Russell Westbrook showed up on Live! with Kelly and Michael and talked about his injuries, his All-Star game MVP, and played some Pop-A-Shot. It was a very Westbrookian appearance in nature.

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Posted in Offseason Beat