Let me preface this by saying that I love what Kendrick Perkins brought to the team last year. The toughness, leadership, and in your face accountability are things that young teams need from a veteran to reach that next level. It is my belief (and that of many others) that the Thunder don’t get to the Western Conference Finals if Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic are still in the starting lineup. The acquisition of Perkins allowed Ibaka to get off the bench and become a power forward’s version of a free safety, attacking anything that came near the basketball. Plus, signing him to an extension that pays him an average of $8.2 million/season for the next 4 years may prove to be a bargain. Quality starting centers usually aren’t obtained for anything south of $10 million.
With that said, one has to wonder whether waiting would have allowed the Thunder to obtain someone more “well-rounded” in the post. While Perkins is definitely good defensively and sets great picks, he leaves a lot to be desired offensively. Though, some of his struggles last season may have been attributed to recovering from knee surgery, its not like he was ever Hakeem Olajuwon in the past. With one of the better big man free agent classes to be seen, quite possibly, ever, there has to be some trepidation whether the Thunder reacted too quickly in trying to obtain (and hold on to) a big man.
Here are 5 candidates that the Thunder could have targeted in this year’s big man free agent class:
5. Samuel Dalembert
When the Thunder first acquired Kendrick Perkins, he was recovering from a strain in his non-surgically repaired knee. In the meantime, they played a handful of games with Nazr Mohammed as their starting center. In Perk’s absence, Mohammed performed admirably averaging 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in a 7 game span.
The reason I mention Mohammed is because Dalembert’s game reminds me a lot of Mohammed’s. With the Kings last season, Dalembert averaged a respectable 8 points, 8 boards, and 1.5 blocks per game. He came on strong at the end of the season, and showed he still had some springs in his legs. It always worries you any time someone performs well in the 2nd half of their contract year. In the first 3 months of the season, Dalembert averaged 5.3 points and 5.9 boards. In the final 3 months of the season, he averaged 11.1 points and 10.8 boards. Probably not someone Presti would have targeted or signed.
Chances of the Thunder targeting Dalembert – 10%
4. Tyson Chandler
The Thunder’s first great center. We had him for a couple hours and life was just a little better when he became a member of the Thunder. But, alas, all good things come to an end, and that one came to an end abruptly and quickly. The botched trade aside, this was the one guy I thought could push the Thunder over the edge. Like Perkins, his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired, but this human pogo stick is a menace on the defensive end. Being one of the cogs on a championship team probably has pushed his price tag up by a couple million dollars. With past injury concerns (see: botched OKC trade), increasing mileage on the odometer, and a probable hefty price tag, the possibility of signingChandlerwould have probably been low.
Chances of the Thunder targetingChandler– 35%
3. DeAndre Jordon
Only 23 years old, but already one of the better defensive centers in the league,Jordanproves a great compliment to Blake Griffin. Together they form, possibly, the most athletically gifted front court in the league.Jordanwould have been a great fit to our core. He’s young, big, and he has improved each of his 3 seasons in the league. With the Clippers soon facing the same issues as the Thunder with young great players coming up on contract extensions, now would have probably been a good time to snag Jordan up by offering him a front loaded contract extension that would have really forced Donald Sterling’s hand. If available, I thinkJordanwould’ve been one of the center that Presti would’ve actively pursued.
Chances of the Thunder targetingJordan– 45%
While the previous 3 centers on this list are primarily defensive centers, these next two centers are good at both sides of the floor. Nene seems to be over the injury-filled beginning of his career which included a torn ACL and a battle with testicular cancer. He has averaged 78 games per season in the past 3 seasons, while averaging 14.3 points, 7.7 boards, and 1.1 blocks per game in that same time span. His quick feet and offensive repertoire make him a big commodity to have late in games. With an asking price somewhere north of $12 million per season, I think Presti would’ve seriously had to take a look at Nene for what he could provide the Thunder on the offensive end, especially in late game situations.
Chances of the Thunder targeting Nene – 55%
1. Marc Gasol
I would have never imagined that Pau Gasol’s little brother would’ve ever made a name for himself in the NBA. I thought he was just going to be a throw-in in the deal involving his brother being traded to the Lakers. Someone who had the Euro big man skills, but whose girth probably would’ve been a detriment in the league. But something happened between the 2008 Olympics and the 2009-2010 season. Gasol lost a lot of that girth and those skills started to translate very well in the NBA. He is now one of the top 4 two-way centers in the league (the other three being Nene, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut) averaging 12.4 points, 7.8 boards, and 1.4 blocks per game in his first 3 season. His combination of youth, mid-range jumper, and inside presence would have been the perfect pick up for Presti and the Thunder. With that said, this is whom I think Presti would’ve seriously pursued if the opportunity had presented itself.
Chances of the Thunder targeting Gasol – 70%
In sports, the most commonly used phrase when it comes to front office decision-making is always, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Do I think the acquisition and subsequent signing of Perkins was the right thing to do? At this point, I do think it was. It allowed the young Thunder the opportunity to experience a deep playoff run. That experience will prove to be invaluable in the long run. Perkins is a Presti-type player and his addition didn’t do anything to distract from the core values of the Thunder. Instead, it enchanced the core values of the Thunder and built a stronger foundation of leadership and accountability. In addition, if the rumors are true about Dwight Howard wanting to be a Laker, then we already have our D. Howard stopper when we meet the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.