Monthly Archives: January 2013

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 46 of 82)

grizz thunder

  • When: Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Welcome to the season opener for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Hold on, what? It’s not the season opener? It’s the 46th game of the season? Wow! With the amount of time we’ve been off (4 whole days) and the amount of time since the last home game (over two weeks), you can see how it feels like an entire off-season since we’ve last seen the team live. Also, this is the longest we’ve had to marinate after a loss since Game 5 of last season’s Finals. Needless to say, Oklahoma City is chomping at the bit to play a game at home.

Their opponent for their return back home is the new look Memphis Grizzlies, although Memphis may be a bit short handed tonight. Yesterday, the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi to the Toronto Raptors for Ed Davis and Jose Calderon. The Grizzlies then turned around and traded Calderon to the Detroit Pistons for Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. Unfortunately (or luckily for the Thunder), those players will not be available for the Grizzlies tonight.

But it’s not like this will be an easy game. This is basically the same team that took the Thunder to 7 games two postseasons ago in the Western Conference Semis. That team was also without Rudy Gay, who was out following in-season shoulder surgery. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in their first meeting this season, 107-97, in Oklahoma City. In that game, Rudy Gay hit every big shot in the 2nd half to keep the Thunder at bay. Much like what the Thunder were facing in their 3rd game of the season, the Grizzlies will be getting acclimated to life without a key component of their team.

The Opponent

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The Grizzlies come into the game with a 29-15 record, good for 4th in the Western Conference. Though they struggle to score points (93.4, 27th in the league), they more than make up for it with the best defense in the league, in terms of opponents’ ppg (89.5, 1st in the league). Offensively, they are highly dependent on post play and taking care of the ball. On defense, they use their physicality and brute strength to gobble up boards and get opponents out of position on offense. The offense is led by the big boys inside, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Though not a very athletic duo, their high basketball IQ more than makes up for their athletic shortcomings. Randolph, who was selected as a reserve to the All-Star game, averages 15.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Gasol, who has been struggling a bit this season, averages 13.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The offense is directed by Mike Conley, who is one of the better floor generals in the league. SG Tony Allen is one of the best defensive wings in the league. The bench is one of the more consistent ones in the league, with 6 players each averaging more than 14.5 minutes and scoring more than 5.5 ppg.

Probable Starters

Memphis Grizzlies

PG – Mike Conley

SG – Wayne Ellington

SF – Tony Allen

PF – Zach Randolph

C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG – Russell Westbrook

SG – Thabo Sefolosha

SF – Kevin Durant

PF – Serge Ibaka

C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

  1. Don’t give this team a chance – Yes, they just lost their best scorer. Yes, they will be shorthanded. But, don’t give this team a chance or they will steal this game. Memphis is a veteran bunch that has won without Rudy Gay before. Take advantage of their lack of depth and play transition basketball and try to draw fouls.  
  2. Control the boards – While Memphis may not score much, their bigs do get a lot of rebounds. This leads to extra opportunities offensively, which is big for a team that is short handed. If necessary, Kevin Durant may need to hedge over to the post to help out on the boards.ibaka randolph
  3. Play Randolph smartly – Serge Ibaka always seems to have trouble against crafty, non-athletic PFs (Randolph, Nowitzki, etc.). Don’t bite on the pump fakes and keep your hands straight up in the air. It seems like when the Thunder play the Grizzlies, Collison always ends up in the game for an extended period of time due to Ibaka’s foul trouble.
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2013 All-Star Reserves

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While the selection of the All-Star Game starters is usually a popularity contest (really, Jeremy Lin was in the discussion for All-Star Game starter), the selection of the All-Star Game reserves is more of a political election, where coaches try to achieve personal agendas of getting their guy(s) on the All-Star team. It probably doesn’t involve bribes and threats of physical harm, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.

All-Star Game reserves are usually reserved for first timers who have shown their mettle through the first half of the season, and for All-Star Game vets who didn’t get voted into the starting lineup. But the last spot on the team is reserved for the head coaches who are coaching in the All-Star Game. And that’s where the partisanship comes into play. If you are a borderline All-Star and your coach is the head coach of the All-Star Game, your ticket may already be punched.

Here are my picks for All-Star Game reserves:

Eastern Conference

Starters

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  • PG – Rajon Rondo – Boston Celtics
  • SG – Dwayne Wade – Miami Heat
  • SF – Lebron James – Miami Heat
  • PF – Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks
  • C – Kevin Garnett – Boston Celtics

Reserves

  • Chris Bosh – Miami Heat (17.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.4 blkpg; 7 All-Star Game appearances)

Chris Bosh is maintaining his status of 3rd wheel on the Miami Heat. He has been a big part of their success and continues his stellar post play.

  • Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets (18.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.1 blkpg; 0 All-Star Game appearances)

Brook Lopez has been a huge part of the Brooklyn Nets’ resurgence into relevancy in the NBA. He is arguably the best offensive center in the game and seems to have gotten over his injury plagued 2011-12 season.

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  • Tyson Chandler – New York Knicks (12.2 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.0 blkpg; 0 All-Star Game appearances)

It completely surprised me that this would be Chandler’s 1st All-Star Game appearance. Aside from Dwight Howard, pre back injury, he has been the best defensive center in the league for the past 3 seasons. He has helped infuse some defensive structure into the New York Knicks’ attack after the D’Antoni regime.

  • Paul George – Indiana Pacers (17.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.7 stlpg; 0 All-Star Game appearances)

This is the Paul George that was envisioned when the Indiana Pacers drafted him 3 years ago. An genetic specimen in the same mold as Kevin Durant, wrecking havoc as a 6’10 shooting guard. George has finally learned to take advantage of his “tools” and has improved in leaps and bounds over the last 2 seasons. He has kept the Pacers highly competitive in the absence of Danny Granger.

  • Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers (23.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.7 apg, 1.8 stlpg; 0 All-Star Game appearances)

Cleveland Cavaliers' Irving brings the ball up court against New York Knicks during their NBA basketball game in New York

After an injury filled rookie season, offseason, and beginning of this season, Irving has finally seen a healthy stretch, and the results have been stunning. Irving has seamlessly merged into the conversation for Top 5 pg’s in the league. He is keeping a young Cleveland Cavaliers team competitive, in spite of their second best player (Anderson Varejao) being out for the season. Plus, he’s worn an MF-Doom-like mask that would make Rip Hamilton envious.

  • Luol Deng – Chicago Bulls (17.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.1 stlpg; 1 All-Star Game appearance)

Outside of Kobe Bryant, Deng is probably the best two-way shooting guard in the league. His play has kept the Chicago Bulls competitive in the absence of Derrick Rose.

Final spot – With Erik Spoelstra in line to the All-Star Game coach, I see him selecting Brandon Jennings with the final roster spot. Being that Spoelstra was once a legendary point guard for the University of Portland, I could see a soft spot in his heart for a point guard.

  • Brandon Jennings – Milwaukee Bucks (18.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.8 apg, 2.0 stlpg; 0 All-Star Game appearances)

Jennings finally seems to be putting it all together as the run and gun pg of the Milwaukee Bucks. The team’s acquisition of Monta Ellis transformed the Bucks from an inside-out half court team to a transition team that is more suited for Jennings.

Snubs: Don’t fret. We still have about month to go before the All-Star Game and injuries do happen.

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  1. Joakim Noah – Chicago Bulls
  2. Monta Ellis – Milwaukee Bucks
  3. Jrue Holiday – Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

Starters

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  • PG – Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers
  • SG – Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers
  • SF – Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder
  • PF – Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers
  • C – Dwight Howard – Los Angeles Lakers

Reserves

  • Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder (23.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 8.2 apg, 1.9 stlpg; 2 All-Star Game appearances)

The premier dual threat point guard in the league, Russell Westbrook (along with Kevin Durant) has led the Thunder to the best record in the league. Improving upon his assist number from last season, Westbrook is now even more of a threat on the floor as a playmaker.

duncan russ

  • Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs (17.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.7 blkpg; 13 All-Star Game appearances)

For as consistent as Tim Duncan has been his entire career, this has probably been his most efficient season. Being the second option on offense has allowed the Big Fundamental to pick and choose his spots.

  • David Lee – Golden State Warriors (19.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 3.7 apg; 1 All-Star Game appearance)

Lee has keyed the Golden State Warriors’ resurgence to one of the top teams in the Western Conference. His consistency on the block and on the boards has allowed the team to flourish in the more conservative offense of Marc Jackson.

  • James Harden – Houston Rockets (25.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.9 stlpg; 0 All-Star Game appearances)

Last season’s 6th Man of the Year, Harden has gone from premier bench player to premier shooting guard since the Thunder traded him to the Houston Rockets before the season started. Harden’s emergence have the Rockets going from expected lottery team, to possible playoff team in the Western Conference.

curry harden

 

  • Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors (20.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.6 stlpg; 0 All-Star Game appearances)

Curry is one of the main reasons for the surprising rise of the Golden State Warriors this season. One of the best shooters in the league, Curry has taken control of this team as the point guard after the trading deadline deal last year that sent Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for oft-injured center Andrew Bogut.

  • Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs (19.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 7.3 apg; 4 All-Star Game appearances)

The focal point of the San Antonio Spurs offense, Parker is still known for causing havoc in the lane with his driving ability. One of the leaders in points in the paint, Parker has also become an adept shooter and playmaker.

Final Spot – Scott Brooks of the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder coached in the All-Star Game last season, so San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose team is in 2nd place in the West, will be coaching the team. And if I know Gregg, he appreciates defense. I see Pop selecting Serge Ibaka with his final selection.

  • Serge Ibaka – Oklahoma City Thunder (14.1 ppg, 8.4 reb, 2.8 blkpg; 0 All-Star Game appearances)

 

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While always a consistent defensive force, Ibaka’s improvement on the offensive end have him becoming more of a dual-threat player.

Snubs – Again, don’t fret too much guys. Injuries do occur and your number may still get called.

aldridge zbo

  1. Zach Randolph – Memphis Grizzlies
  2. Lamarcus Aldridge – Portland Trailblazers
  3. Rudy Gay – Memphis Grizzlies

Oklahoma City Thunder: 2012-13 Midseason Review

This was supposed to be the year where the Oklahoma City Thunder’s young quartet of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden was supposed to put it all together and finally reach the mountain top. These four young men who had just competed (and medaled) in the Olympics were supposed to pick up where they had left off and continue on their improvement track. From 1st round losers to Western Conference Finals losers to NBA Finals losers, the eventual next step would have been NBA Finals winners. Everyone went into training camp with that mind set.

Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant

And then, 5 days before the season started, in the middle of a stirring football game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, came the shocking news that one of the quartet had been traded. James Harden, whose contract extension talks had stalled with the team, was traded, along with Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward, to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. It took several days before the jaws of Oklahomans throughout the state were picked up off the ground.

Once the shock wore off, and the trade was analyzed, it was one of those instances where it was a good trade for both teams. The Thunder got a comparable player in Martin, a good young guard in Lamb, assets in the form of draft picks, and salary cap flexibility. Championship contending teams usually never have assets and salary cap flexibility, but this trade gave that back to the Thunder before they had an opportunity to lose it. Houston, in return, got a franchise player in Harden. After clearing cap space and failing to land Dwight Howard in the offseason, the Rockets were chomping at the bit for a franchise-type guy. So far, it’s been a win-win for both teams.

kmart lamb

Whether we were ready for the season or not, it still had to be played. The schedule doesn’t care whether the Thunder made a big roster move five days before the start of the season. The schedule doesn’t care that the Thunder never got the opportunity to play any pre-season games with any of its new players. All the schedule decrees is that said team be at the location of the game with at least 8 dressed players. So with that, the Thunder embarked on the first half of the season.

November 1st, 2012 – November 4th, 2012 : The sky is falling!!!! Grab the women and children, and head to higher ground!!!!! (1-2)

After the core rattling trade five days prior, the Thunder had to open their season on the road against their Western Conference Finals opponent, the San Antonio Spurs. The game was back and forth most of the night with neither team controlling the game. In the final minute with the Spurs down by three, Tony Parker hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to tie the game. On the Thunder’s next possession, with the opportunity to take the lead, Russell Westbrook turned the ball over to give the Spurs one final shot. Tony Parker calmly sank a 21-footer at the buzzer to give the Spurs the victory.

parker

Of course, panic set in after that. Would the Thunder ever win another game again? Is this the beginning of the Curse of the Beard? Would we have won that game had James Harden not been traded? The second game was against the Portland Trailblazers in Oklahoma City. The Thunder easily dispatched of the Trailblazers in expected fashion. But that did little to quell the panic of the fan base, especially when Harden was in Houston averaging 35.3 points per game after the first three games of the season.

harden

The Thunder entered the third game of the season with high hopes. But after 21 turnovers and an inability to make shots in the second half, the Thunder lost to the Atlanta Hawks to bring their record to 1-2. Needless to say, some in the fan base were ready to jump off of the Devon Energy Tower.

Novemeber 6th, 2012 – November 23rd, 2012: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. (8-2)

This home heavy stretch against lesser opponents is just what the doctor ordered, not only for the team, but also for the fan base. After the Atlanta loss, the Thunder reeled off five straight win against 3 likely lottery teams (Cleveland, Detroit (x2), and Toronto), and one injury ravaged team (Chicago). It’s almost like the team had a mini training camp with these 5 games serving as preseason games. The players got a sense of what their roles were, and the coaching staff got a sense of how the rotation would work.

team

Then we played the Memphis Grizzlies, and got man-handled. The big boys (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) did work inside and Rudy Gay went all KD on the Thunder, hitting seemingly every big shot in the 4th quarter. The fear that engulfed the fan base at the beginning of the season changed from, “When will we win a game?” to “Will we be able to hang with the top teams in the West?”

Those fears were eased a little when the Thunder won their next 3 games, the final two being against Western Conference playoff hopefuls Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors. Against the Warriors, Kevin Durant notched his first career triple double with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. The Thunder went on the road and lost against the Boston Celtics after that in a close game. Overall, the feeling at this point in the season is that the Thunder were starting to get it together, but still had some kinks to work out.

November 24th, 2012 – December 19th, 2012: We’re going streaking!!!!! (12-0)

This is where the team seemed to put it all together. During this stretch of games, the Thunder beat their opponents by an average of 13.8 points per game. The team averaged 108.6 points per game. That is an astonishing run. The winning percentage of the teams that the Thunder beat during this streak was .477, not necessarily power house numbers, but not necessarily the Sisters of the Poor, either.

There were some very important things that happened during the streak:

1)      We completely emasculated a team. In the second game of the streak, the Thunder beat the Charlotte Bobcats 114-69. The Bobcats were riding high coming into the game at 7-5, the same amount of victories as the previous season. The young Bobcats were looking to show what they could do against one of the big boys in the league. And the Thunder just beat them with their own stick. To a team that was still feeling itself out, this victory is just what they needed to prove to themselves that they could still run somebody out of the gym if necessary. The beating was so bad for the Bobcats that they did not win another game for the next month (17 games total after that).

2)      In the next game, the Thunder exorcised any demons from the trade and beat James Harden and the Houston Rockets handily, 120-98. While the game started off as a walk down memory lane, it quickly turned into an “us versus them” mentality when Harden had a spat that momentarily had Hasheem Thabeet ejected from the game. After that, Harden became another opponent that received boos. And the cherry on the top was that Harden completely struggled against the Thunder shooting 3-16 for 17 points, well below his average.

harden thabeet

3)      We dominated the Los Angeles Lakers at home 114-108. I know these aren’t the Lakers from a couple years ago. But this was the superteam that was constructed in the offseason to battle the Thunder for Western Conference supremacy. When Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were added to the core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, it sent shockwaves through the league that this would be the new team to beat. Though chemistry issues have kept the Lakers from achieving this, it was still good to beat them and let them know that we still run the West.

4)      We beat the Spurs handily at home 107-93. With the Lakers struggling, this team is probably our biggest rival. With the Western Conference Finals last season, and the close game the Spurs won to start the season, this was a pivotal matchup for the Thunder, not only record-wise, but mentally also.

December 20th, 2012 – January 7th, 2013 – Holiday sputter (5-4)

It’s a funny thing about perspective. If I were to tell you that we’ve won 17 of our last 21 games, you’d probably think that’s a pretty good run. But, if I told you that we’ve lost 4 of our last 9 games, you’d probably think that we are struggling a bit. This is where the Thunder found themselves at this point in the season. After winning 12 in a row, they lost on the road to an upstart Minnesota team that was just beginning to put it all together, before injuries once again derailed their season. Then, the Thunder lost on Christmas day to the Miami Heat. The one monkey that still hangs on the team’s back is the ability to consistently beat Miami.

russ miami

After the Miami loss, the Thunder went on to win 5 of their next 7. One of the losses was against the Davids of the NBA, or as I like to call them, the Washington Wizards. This Wizards team, with the worst record in the NBA, always seems to play its best against the Goliath’s of the league. They’ve already beaten the Heat once this season, and they beat the Thunder last season also. It’s just something about that slingshot.

January 9th, 2013 – January 20th, 2013 – Wonder Twins activate! (6-1)

This is what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have done in the past 7 games:

  • KD – 35.9 points / 6.1 rebounds / 4.1 assists /1.7 steals / 1.3 blocks per game
  • RW – 29.0 points /6.7 rebounds /7.1 assists /1.0 steal per game

What these two guys have been doing the past two weeks has been nothing short of dominant. Durant had a career high 52 points in a win over the Dallas Mavericks during this stretch. And Westbrook has notched 4 straight games of 30 points or more. It’s become a tradition that when the Thunder trade away a major player, someone steps up in his place. When Jeff Green was traded two seasons ago, Serge Ibaka and James Harden stepped up their games and the Thunder continued improving. This time around, when Harden was traded, Ibaka has elevated his game to another level, and the two superstars have gotten even better.

durant-westbrook

The Thunder ended the first half of the season with a 32-9 record, good for best in the league. They are the last team with single digit losses and have the best scoring differential in the league, at +9.0. Looking forward, the second half of the season will be a little bit tougher, though. The Thunder will have 3 more road games and the teams they’ll be facing have a combined .511 winning percentage. In the end, I see the Thunder ending up with the number 1 seed, not only in the Western Conference, but in the entire NBA with a 63-19 record.

The Eric Maynor Sweepstake

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With Eric Maynor’s DNP-CD on Wednesday night, in a blowout of the Denver Nuggets, it was quite apparent that his run with the Oklahoma City Thunder is over. Ten months after suffering a torn right ACL, Maynor’s athleticism and confidence seemed to be wavering to the point that 2nd year guard Reggie Jackson took over sole possession of the back-up point guard duties on the team 25 games into the season. While Maynor’s numbers were never that impressive, his command of the 2nd unit (and sometimes, the 1st unit) showed he had the potential to run his own team.

Back about two years ago, Maynor was being hailed at the best back-up point guard in the league. He led one of the best benches in the league, along with James Harden and Nick Collison. In hindsight, though, it seems that a lot of Maynor’s success was due in large part to James Harden. The former Thunder guard is now the 4th leading scorer in the NBA, with a 26.3 points per game average. The skills that he is currently exhibiting now as a Houston Rocket, were on full display during his first 3 seasons in the league, the last of which culminated with the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year award.

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Maynor’s game was never dependent on athleticism. He was a prober that constantly tried to find the open man or an open lane, and rarely turned the ball over. After the knee injury, though, what little athleticism Maynor did have was sapped, as was his confidence. Maynor began to drive less and shoot more, leading to career lows in FG% (30%) and assists per game (2.1). Though he was never touted for his defense, that part of Maynor’s game suffered greatly after the injury. He was constantly getting beat off the dribble, which led to either leads dwindling or deficits increasing. After 24 games, the Thunder decided to try Reggie Jackson as their primary back-up point guard. Though not the floor general that Maynor is, Jackson’s athleticism and physical tools lend him to be a better defender and more of a driving threat on offense.

Reggie Jackson, Markeiff Morris

Being that Maynor is a free agent after this season, the Thunder would still like to get some value for him before the trading deadline. Maynor can still play the game, and maybe a change of scenery will help get his confidence back. Maynor’s value may not be that high, but the Thunder can package him with any number of assets to get a necessary piece to their championship puzzle. The Thunder are loaded with picks (Toronto’s top 3 protected, Dallas’s top 20 protected, and Charlotte’s 2013 2nd rounder) and young talent (Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, DeAndre Liggins, and Daniel Orton) that would be very attractive in a deal. I, for one, am not in favor of dealing Lamb, Jones, or Liggins. With the current cost of the top half of the roster, the Thunder will need good, cheap talent to stay in championship contention.

That would leave Maynor and Orton, plus the picks, as the only tradable assets I see on the roster. Being that the only feasible need I see for the Thunder is another bench scorer, hopefully a 3/4 tweener, I’ve decided to become armchair GM for the day, and see what moves I can come up with. Move over Sam Presti, my shine is too bright for the both of us.

Disclaimer: All moves have been approved on ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine. Any move involving Daniel Orton would need to get done after January 31st.

Deal 1

  •  Houston get Eric Maynor and the Thunder’s 2014 2nd rounder.
  • Oklahoma City gets Royce White and the rights to either Sergio Llull or Furkan Aldemir.

furkan

Why Houston makes the deal – Houston is loaded with PnR-reliant guards in Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Toney Douglas. If a defense knows how to defend the PnR effectively, it cuts off the Rocket’s first plan of attack. Having a traditional point guard would be a change of pace for the Rockets and will allow them to exploit other facets of their offense, such as Omer Asik’s post game and Chandler Parson’s 3 point shooting. Also, Houston gets rid of a headache in White. The verbal/social media sparring that has gone on between White and the Rockets is well documented concerning his mental health.

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – While this eschews the notion of obtaining a bench scorer now, having the rights to either Llull or Aldemir would be a steal. Llull is the premier combo guard in Euroleague and would fit immediately into the Thunder’s rotation. Aldemir is great on the boards and would really help the Thunder in the post. Presti would probably tell White to stay at home and would negotiate a buy-out with his agent.

Deal 2

  • Milwaukee gets Eric Maynor, Daniel Orton, and the Mavericks top 20 protected pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets Mike Dunleavy

Why Milwaukee makes the deal – Milwaukee will be in a state of flux after the season. Their top two point guards, Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih, are both free agents, though Jennings is restricted. The Bucks have been on record as saying they will retain Brandon Jennings, no matter what. A large enough extension would make retaining Udrih, currently making $7.8 million, nearly impossible. A cheap replacement like Maynor, who would sign for far less, would be more feasible. They could test drive Orton for half a season as all of their true centers are also free agents at the end of the season. The draft pick is just a sweetner.

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Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – Mike Dunleavy would immediately have an impact on the 2nd team as a scorer and shooter. The dribble and drive ability of Jackson would open up even more with Dunleavy and Kevin Martin on the floor together.

Deal 3

  • New Orleans gets Eric Maynor and the Thunder 2013 draft pick
  • Oklahoma City gets Al-Farouq Aminu

Why New Orleans makes the deal – With Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Robin Lopez on the front line, Aminu becomes the odd man out. His inconsistent play has been a source of ire from the Hornet’s fan base. A veteran point guard would help this young roster out and an extra first rounder will help in the Hornet’s rebuilding process.

aminu

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – Aminu is exactly the type of player that the Thunder covet. A 3/4 tweener with possible upside and a long wingspan (7’3!!). In the right system, he could be a valuable contributor off the bench.

Deal 4

  • Phoenix gets Eric Maynor, Daniel Orton, the right to swap either of their lottery picks (theirs or the Lakers’) lottery picks if it benefits the Suns, and the Thunder’s 2013 pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets Jared Dudley

Why Phoenix makes the deal – Let’s face it. Phoenix is rebuilding and is not interested in long-term role player contracts. Dudley still has 2 years at $4.25 million guaranteed after this season, plus a player option for the same amount. Phoenix could flip Dudley for a young center, a possible better lottery pick, and a late first rounder.

dudley

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – The Thunder get a great role player with a good contract for the next 2-3 seasons. Plus, a player like Dudley has value and can possibly be flipped for other assets.

Deal 5

  • Cleveland gets Eric Maynor and Dallas top 20 protected pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets CJ Miles

cj miles

Why Cleveland makes the deal – It isn’t the Anderson Varejao deal, but Cleveland still gets a future first rounder for a role player that’s a free agent after this season. Plus, Maynor could dispense some veteran wisdom onto Kyrie Irving.

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – The Thunder get a good role player that can shoot and stretch the floor. Plus, they don’t give up much.

kevin-durant-eric-maynor-2011-2-6-0-1-11

As a fan, I would hate to see Maynor go. He’s grown with this team and was a big part of its development. But, as we’ve seen with the Jeff Green and Harden trades, it is also a business in which every team is trying their hardest to get better. If a move can be made, and it is advantageous to the team, then it’s a deal that must be made. When the inevitable happens, I wish Maynor nothing but the best. He’s been a consummate professional and has a long career ahead of him.

Liggsanity: Next Man Up

liggs

Last night was the real reason why we cheer for sports. We love watching athletes do things we can only imagine and dream of doing. But we truly relish when an athlete, who may not be as naturally talented as his superstar counterparts, finally gets his opportunity to perform after putting in work in hours and hours of practice. Now don’t get me wrong, every athlete works hard to get where they are at. Kevin Durant puts in just as much time in the gym as Daniel Orton. But we, as fans, probably relate more to Daniel Orton, than to Kevin Durant.

Which is what made last night’s game so special for us fans. Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks constantly preaches about “the next man up.” But with the Iron Man lineup that we have, that saying barely has a chance to be put into practice. When the television broadcast for the game started, it was already a given that Serge Ibaka was going to be out with a bruised sternum. What wasn’t known until basically tipoff, was that Thabo Sefolosha would also be out with a strained neck (hotel pillows suck!). So the quick question was who would be inserted into the starting line-up at shooting guard? Would it be Kevin Martin? Would Jeremy Lamb finally be unleashed?

Scott Brooks

The blueprint to who would start was put into play last season. When Sefolosha missed 23 games due to a leg injury, Brooks started by inserting James Harden into the starting lineup. Harden, who had been the Thunder’s 6th man for 3 seasons, struggled in his role as a starter. At the same time, the Thunder’s bench struggled to score points. Brooks adjusted the next game by inserting Daequan Cook into the starting lineup and keeping Harden on the bench. The transition became a lot smoother after that until Sefolosha returned. With Kevin Martin being the Thunder’s 6th man this season and Brooks not wanting to mess with the team’s rotation too much, DeAndre Liggins got the start.

Liggins was a 2nd round pick of the Orlando Magic in the 2011 draft. After playing in 17 games his rookie season, Liggins was released by the Magic in an attempt to clear cap space and a roster spot for the eventual post-Dwight Howard rebuild. (Why Orlando would get rid of a cheap capable wing defender is beyond me.) Liggins was signed by the Thunder as a training camp invite to try out for the final 2 roster spots on the team. The team had 13 guaranteed contracts, and brought in a couple other players as training camp invites to battle for the remaining roster spots. In 5 preseason games (including 2 starts), Liggins averaged 20.8 minutes, 4.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game. Based on his preseason performances and his propensity for energy and defense, Liggins willed his way onto the team as the final cut.

As a 2nd year player, Liggins was eligible to be assigned to the Thunder’s D-League affifiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, throughout the season. As I’ve written before, the Thunder take full advantage of their D-League usage. Liggins was sent down for a 3 game stint at the end of November and another 3 game stint at the end of December. In 6 games with the 66ers, Liggins has been the jack of all trades, averaging 10.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. Since his last D-League game on December 29th, Liggins has been logging regular minutes off the bench for the Thunder.

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Liggins took full advantage of his first career start. He played nearly 40 minutes and almost had a double double with 11 points and 9 rebounds. He played suffocating defense on Wesley Matthews and made life miserable for anyone that was around him when he was on the defensive end. Most importantly, he played the entire 4th quarter in a close game without looking nervous at all. In other words, he played like he belonged.

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Liggins is just another example of what hard work and perseverance can do for an individual. These are the type of players that the organization is looking for. These are the types of players that relate to us, the fans. Thabo could start tonight against the Phoenix Suns and may not miss another game for the entire season. But for this one game, the Thunder mantra of, “next man up” held firm and true with DeAndre Liggins.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers Preview (Game 36 of 82)

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  • When: Friday, 11 January 2013 at 9:30 CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

So the Los Angeles Lakers stand at 15-20, losers of five in a row, and in 11th place in the Western Conference. Even at their lowest, a game against the Lakers still includes bright lights and heightened exposure. Lakers fans and the NBA, as a whole, seems to have gone all “Chicken Little” with the Lakers’ current state, and yet, there remains an aura of hope that they will begin to click and reel off wins. So far, though, the Mike D’Antoni era Lakers have performed well below expectations.

 The Oklahoma City Thunder come into the game with a 27-8 record, having defeated the injury-depleted Minnesota Timberwolves, 106-84, in their last game. Since losing to the Lakers in the 2010 playoffs, the Thunder are 8-4 against them to include a 4-1 series drubbing in the second round of last season’s postseason. The Thunder defeated the Lakers in their first meeting of this season 114-108. Russell Westbrook set the tone in that game, going for 27 of his 33 points in the 1st half. Durant punctuated the 2nd half of that game with 18 of his 36 points. Kobe Bryant scored 35 points for the Lakers, who were without Pau Gasol.

 The Opponent

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 The Lakers are currently a team in disarray due to various reasons. First off, injuries have depleted the front line, with Dwight Howard (shoulder/back), Jordan Hill (hip), and Pau Gasol (concussion/knees) missing time recently. Secondly, the coaching change from Mike Brown to D’Antoni changed the entire system that was being run by the Lakers in the first month of the season. Thirdly, the chemistry is still under construction with the influx of new players, new coaches, and new systems. Fourth, the defense has been terrible, allowing 101.7 points per game, good for 26th in the NBA.

 The back court is an array of All-Stars, former MVP’s, and future Hall of Famers. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash may be just a tad bit slower, but are still great at what they do. Kobe is leading the league in scoring at 30.1 ppg and Nash is still dishing out almost 9 assists per game. While still a physical defender, Metta World Peace’s dwindling athleticism has begun to affect what he is primarily on the court for. With Howard out, look for either Gasol or Robert Sacre to man the middle. The bench has been another issue for the Lakers, as the player they have do not match the system they want to run.

 Probable Starters

 Los Angeles Lakers

  •  PG – Steve Nash
  • PG – Darius Morris
  • SG – Kobe Bryant
  • SF – Metta World Peace
  • C – Pau Gasol

 Oklahoma City Thunder

  •  PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

 3 Keys To Victory

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  1. Weather the Storm – I have a feeling the Lakers are going to come out guns-a-blazing to start off the game. Kobe let World Peace do much of the scoring early in their previous game and that partially led to them being down 9 by halftime. Kobe will come out gunning, Nash will come out assisting, and you know some bench/unknown player (Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks) will erupt from 3 point land against us. If they get past the initial onslaught and stay defensively disciplined, the Thunder should be okay.
  2. Control the glass – With Howard definitely out and Gasol and Hill questionable, there should be no reason why the Thunder don’t win the battle of the boards by at least 8. One of the worst things to give an injured, struggling team is extra possessions.
  3. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – I don’t know what it is about these two when they play against the Lakers, but they seem to relish destroying this team. This game has Westbrook written all over it. I would think that the Lakers would start the game off with Kobe on Westbrook, but if they dare put Nash on him, watch out. Nash has lost a step or two this season, and Westbrook is one of the fastest athletes in the league.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Washington Wizards Preview (Game 34 of 82)

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  • When: Monday, 07 January 2013 at 06:00 CST
  • Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.

This is literally the NBA’s best versus the NBA’s worst. When the Oklahoma City Thunder meet the Washington Wizards on Monday night, Washington will be 21.5 games behind the Thunder with 32 games already played. The Thunder come into the game having defeated the Toronto Raptors in a Sunday matinee, 104-92. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant led 5 Thunder players in double figures with 23 and 22 points, respectively. After dropping 3 of 6, the Thunder have won 2 in a row by an average of 18 points.

In their only meeting last season, the Wizards defeated the Thunder 105-102. That was the Thunder’s only loss in a 12 game stretch during the early portion of the strike shortened season. Wizards’ point guard John Wall led the way with a near triple double of 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists. Russell Westbrook had 36 points, 5 boards, and 7 assists, while Kevin Durant had 33 points, but the Thunder could never catch up after digging themselves a hole early in the game.

The Opponent

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The Washington Wizards find themselves with the worst record in the NBA at 4-28. They score an anemic 88.9 points per game, good for last in the league, while allowing 97.2 points per game. Part of the reason for their slow start is the absence of John Wall, who has been sidelined with a knee injury the entire season. The Wizards start Garrett Temple and rookie Bradley Beal in the back court. Beal was rumored to be a target of the Thunder’s in a possible draft day deal involving then Thunder guard James Harden. After averaging 11 points per game his first month of the season, Beal has increased his scoring to 14.4 point per game in December and January. He has also nearly doubled his assists numbers in that same time frame from 1.6 to 3.4 assists per game. Three point specialist Martell Webster is the other starting wing at small forward. The Wizards are formidable inside with a trio of veteran big men in Emeka Okafor, Nene, and Kevin Seraphin. Together the trio combines for 31.6 points, 18.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. Off the bench, the Wizards deploy some fire power in the form of guard Jordan Crawford and Cartier Martin, who can easily rattle off 15-20 points in a game. 

Probable Starters

Washington Wizards

  • PG – Garrett Temple
  • SG – Bradley Beal
  • SF – Martell Webster
  • PF – Nene
  • C – Emeka Okafor

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to Victory

1) Long-term and short-term memory – The Wizards were 1-12 when the Thunder faced them last season and lost 105-102. The Wizards were 1-13 this season when they beat the Miami Heat, 105-101. Regardless of record, this is still a collection of professional players that plays in the NBA. With their record, they view the big time opponents as their playoff games.

2) Wizards inside trio (Okafor, Nene, Seraphin) vs. the Thunder’s inside trio (Perkins, Ibaka, and Nick Collison) – Though not as effective as they used to be, Emeka Okafor and Nene can still come up with double double games  if given the opportunity. Seraphin is a lot like Ibaka from 2 years ago, still raw, but polished enough to give big minutes. The Wizards are the 7th best rebounding team in the league with an average of 43.6 rebounds per game. If the Thunder big men are not on their post games, the Wizards could collect second chance boards and make a game out of this.

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3) Kevin Durant – Trevor Ariza is the only player on the Wizards that has a sliver of hope of guarding Durant, and he’ll probably be out with a strained calf. Martell Webster is too short, Chris Singleton is too slow, and Jan Vesely is too European to guard Durant one on one. Hometown Durant could be on full display tonight. The only person stopping Durant tonight is Durant…and the bench if he doesn’t get off of it in the 4th quarter.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 32 of 82)

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  • When: Friday, 04 January 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Regardless of what you think of Nike’s “KD is not nice” campaign, imagine the fear in the Philadelphia 76ers’ locker room when A) they have to face the Thunder after a loss and B) they have to face Kevin Durant after the first ejection of his career. The Thunder come into the game having lost to the Brooklyn Nets in one of the more frustrating games of the season. After being down by 20+ in the first half, the Thunder battled back to tie the game in the 4th, only to completely squander the game through bad defense and questionable officiating.

The Thunder come into the game 24-7, tied for 1st in the Western Conference. They lead the season series 1-0, after beating the Sixers in Philadelphia in overtime 116-109.  Durant scored 37 and Russell Westbrook had 30 points in a game that the Thunder could never put the Sixers away. Every time the Thunder got a sizeable lead, Philly went on a run. The difference came in overtime in the form of four consecutive 3-pointers from 4 different Thunder players.

The Opponent

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers come into the game with a 15-18 record, clinging on to the 8th spot in the East over Boston by percentage points. The Sixers are 3-9 in their last 12 games and have been plagued by lack of consistency on the offensive end, as evidenced by their 93.3 points per game average (good for 26th in the league). They are led by 4th year point guard Jrue Holiday who is blossoming this season, averaging 18.8 points, 9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. He is joined in the backcourt by veteran Jason Richardson and 3rd year wingman Evan Turner, who is also starting to come into his own after struggling his first two seasons in the league. The front court is undersized, manned by versatile PF Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen. Their bench can be explosive led by Nick Young and Dorell Wright and center Spencer Hawes. Each of the bench players is capable of catching fire from 3-point land and putting up big numbers.

Probable Starters

Philadelphia 76ers

PG – Jrue Holiday

SG – Jason Richardson

SF – Evan Turner

PF – Thaddeus Young

C – Lavoy Allen

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG – Russell Westbrook

SG – Thabo Sefolosha

SF – Kevin Durant

PF – Serge Ibaka

C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to Victory

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1) Russell Westbrook vs. another UCLA point guard – Russell Westbrook has had a go of it lately versus his fellow Bruins point guards. He got torched by Darren Collison of the Dallas Mavericks for 32 points and 4 assists a week ago. Utah Jazz reserve guard Earl Watson had one of his higher assist games against the Thunder with 8 assists. The good news is that Westbrook held Holiday to 6 points on 3-11 shooting the last time they played.

Another note – Russell Westbrook shot over 50% in his last game. He has not shot over 50% in consecutive games this season. I think he’s due.

2) Serge Ibaka vs. Thaddeus Young – Young is one of those versatile, undersized power forwards that give Ibaka fits. He does most of his work in the midrange area, thus negating Ibaka’s biggest strength as a defender. This was on full display the last time the Sixers played the Thunder, as Young had 29 points and 15 rebounds. All the while, Ibaka had 0 blocks and 9 boards.

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3) Rebound advantage – The Thunder should take full advantage of the Sixers being undersized in the post. Young and Allen don’t go over 6’9, and while Hawes is a legit 7 footer, he spends a lot of his time on the perimeter, thus negating his offensive rebounding potential. Durant should take full advantage of this opportunity and drop down to the post to help out on the boards.

Crazy Uncle Perk

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We, as fans, sometimes view players as objects of entertainment. We look to them as visual and emotional toys that we unwrap every October, and hope to play with through June. When they no longer entertain us or completely frustrate us, they become highly expendable in our minds. We get on blogs and forums and completely blame that player for everything that is wrong with the team. It doesn’t matter whether the team is the best in the league or the worst in the league, there’s always that one player that catches the ire of most of the fanbase. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that they are humans too.  

There has developed a sort of love-hate relationship between Thunder fans and center Kendrick Perkins in the last couple of weeks. None of it is due to anything personal. For all intents and purposes, Perkins seems like an affable guy who is completely devoted to his family. A big extended family that includes his nuclear family and his Thunder fam. Some players talk about their team being a family, when, in reality, family just means people that they have to deal with for 6-9 months out of the year. Some players, though, really do live by the “team is family” creed, inviting teammates to their house and generally, trying to bond with them throughout the season, and sometimes, even after the season.   

As a team, the Oklahoma City Thunder are very family oriented. The leaders on the team adhere to this concept as does the organization as a whole. The foundational culture of the team is rooted in family. And included in that family, is the entire fan base. We, as fans, are all invested in the same cause, but at different ends of the spectrum. The players are the performers and the fans are the audience. But sometimes, it’s easy to forget that the family concept is a two way street. We, as fans, expect for the team to acknowledge us, either through charity work, through team interviews, or through slogans, such as “Team is One”. We expect players to sign autographs for us at all hours of the day, wherever we see them. But, the sad truth is that fans do a bad job of picking players up when they aren’t providing what we expect of them.   

team is one

Family means different things to different people. To me, family is the group of people you are born/raised into and the people you accept into your circle. It’s a set of people whom you accept and can depend on through the good and the bad. And as a sports family, we’ve accepted the Oklahoma City Thunder into our family. They are interwoven into our fabric from October through June. We have Thunder watch parties, talk about the team around the dinner table, and talk about the people in the organization like they reciprocate talking about us at their dinner tables.

Family dynamics are a difficult part of co-existing as a family. Not everyone is going to get along the same all the time. But if a family is to co-exist, they have to accept the good and the bad of a member and go with it. For example, every family has that one family member. You know, the black sheep that’s kind of an outcast and rough around the edges. Its usually an uncle. They may have either served some time in jail or have a short temper. And they usually have drama with a wife, ex-wife, girlfriend, or baby momma (or a combination of all four) that spills over into family events. And when something goes down involving a bar, a fight, and a woman, you know Uncle was involved. But here’s the thing about Uncle, though. He’s full of wisdom and has a great ear for listening. And, he’s great at some sort of handy work, usually mechanics or carpentry. And when you need him, he’s always there, no questions asked.

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Well, that Uncle is Kendrick Perkins. He’s a little rough around the edges with the scowl and the intimidation. He’s probably on the naughty list of most of his opponents. And, he’s had some injury issues in the past. But when we need him to guard a Dwight Howard or a Marc Gasol, he’s there with his hard hat on, no questions asked. When we needed him to play through a torn groin and a wrist that needed to be surgically repaired, he gutted it out and performed beautifully. When his young teammates need an ear to vent to, he’s there to listen with some Southern drawl wisdom to accompany it. Whenever we need Perk, he’s there. And yet, when he is used incorrectly, or he doesn’t perform to our standards, we chastise him and await his presence with a pink slip in our hands.

If comparing Perkins to a family member doesn’t help you see his value, let me give you some tangible evidence versus some of the top centers in the game:  

Before Perkins 

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  • 2009-10 – including playoffs vs. Bynum (LAL), Howard (Orl), Perkins (Bos), Duncan (SA), M.Gasol (Mem), and Nene (Den) – 9-16 
  • 2010 thru Feb 23, 2011 – vs. Duncan (SA), Bynum (LAL), M.Gasol (Mem), and Nene (Den) – 2-6 

With Perkins 

  • March 14, 2011 – end of season (including playoff) vs. Bynum (LAL), Jefferson (UTA), Nene (Den), and D. Jordan (LAC) – 13 – 6 
  • 2011 – 2012 – 66 game season including playoffs vs. Bynum (LAL), Howard (Orl), M.Gasol (Mem), Duncan (SA), Jefferson (Uta), and D. Jordan (LAC) – 19 – 11  
  • 2012 – through the New Year 2013 – vs. Howard (LAL), M.Gasol (Mem), Duncan (SA), D.Jordan (LAC), and Jefferson (Uta) – 4 – 2

Excluding the first season the Thunder were in Oklahoma City, the team went 11 – 22 against top tier centers in the league before the arrival of Perkins. That’s a .333 winning percentage. After the arrival of Perkins, the team has gone 36 – 19 against top tier centers. That’s a .655 winning percentage. Looking at the raw data, Perkins has nearly doubled the chances of the Thunder winning versus a team with a top tier center.

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Understandably, the correlation is not one to one. The players around Perkins have gotten better as they have aged. But the Thunder doesn’t improve as quickly as it has without that rock in the middle. And there is no way the Thunder make it to the Finals last season without Perkins manning the middle. The defensive job he did on Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bynum, and Tim Duncan was a big reason the Thunder were Western Conference Champions. While his performance against the Heat in the Finals exposed his flaws, it wasn’t like he was put in a position to succeed by Coach Scott Brooks, either. Brooks needs to understand that against smaller, quicker teams, Perkins’s strengths will be negated. Conversely, Perkins needs to understand that against these teams, he may have to sit more time than usual. But that’s the thing about those crazy uncles. They are usually stubborn as a mule.