Posted Feb 25 2011 8:44AM
There's no question that the Oklahoma City Thunder still have their eyes on the future.
But now instead of gazing out dreamily at a distant horizon, they've set their sights on a nearer goal.
Say April or May, perhaps even June.
It's no longer all about patiently planting the Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green seeds, adding water and watching them grow.
Now it's about now.
So as the big clock ticked toward Thursday's trade deadline, along came the Thunder to make some of the biggest noise on an explosive, tumultuous day by reeling in Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson from the Boston Celtics for Green and Nenad Krstic. They also got Nazr Mohammed from the Charlotte Bobcats for D.J. White and Mo Peterson.
Just like that, OKC went from being the young, talented group of kids who could make flashy plays but still get pushed around at crunch time on the playground to a team that can stand its ground and mix it up.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti insisted that the moved was not a quick-fix move.
"That's not how I think," he said. "It was more of, 'We love Perkins. We want to get him in the program. We want to keep him in the program.' He is so in our DNA.
"This is not a 'win-now' move. This is not, 'Let's go for it.' This is us methodically continuing to put pieces in place that we think can help us now and in the future. We traded for Perkins with the intent that he'll be here for a while."
Nobody is saying that OKC is making a panicky move or pushing in all of the chips on the table to win one hand. At 26, Perkins is just entering the prime of his career and could be a physical and emotional anchor for the Thunder for years. Nobody is saying they are skipping steps or cutting corners, only that it was time to press down a little more on the accelerator.
With the playoffs approaching, OKC is having another nice season and likely headed to the Northwest Division title. But as they were previously constructed, another first-round exit wouldn't have been entirely out of the question. Now this makes things much more interesting.
Perkins brings his size and bulk and also his attitude to the middle of a Thunder lineup that was decidedly lacking. Nearly a year removed from their fun run against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, the Thunder were still lacking a low-post offensive player to work with Durant late in games. Far too often in too many games, OKC couldn't get the ball into the paint and wound up taking long jumpers rather than getting the ball to the basket or getting to the free-throw line.
With Perkins and Mohammed taking up space and minutes at center, the Thunder, not coincidentally, are a better defensive matchup against the long Lakers and now have a size advantage over San Antonio, the likely No. 1 seed in the West.
The new version of the Thunder is likely to have Serge Ibaka taking over for Green at the power forward spot. Green was always undersized at the position. Ibaka still needs work offensively. But he'll have Perkins and Mohammed manning the middle and could collect blocked shots from the weak side and knock down his mid-range jumper in tandem with Westbrook.
James Harden will also likely see his minutes increase as coach Scott Brooks uses a three-guard lineup more often as he goes from fourth on the OKC list of scoring options to third.
However, it's still Perkins who is the difference maker, the one who changes the makeup and the personality of the Thunder. Ever since he went down with a torn right ACL in Game 6 of the Finals last June, Perkins has been a driven man, craving nothing more than a return meeting with the Lakers. Now maybe he won't have to wait so long. In addition to his post moves, board work and defense, Perkins and just the way he takes the court will also light an emotional fire under the Thunder that the Celtics might regret giving up. Nobody lives the "Beat L.A." spirit more than him. Note how many of his veteran teammates back in Boston are upset with the trade.
Of course, there were financial considerations that went into the deal. With Durant having signed an $85 million contract extension that kicks in next season and fellow All-Star Westbrook in line for a whopping deal of his own, there was no way the Thunder were going to hand over another similar bundle of money to Green.
Perkins had turned down a four-year, $22 million extension offer from the Celtics and now he'll have to see what he can get out of the scrupulous Thunder under whatever system is established with a new collective bargaining agreement. While Perkins is recovering from his torn right ACL, he's also now limping with a sore left knee that occurred when he collided with Stephen Curry on Tuesday night and could miss a week.
But eventually he'll take up his spot in the middle of the OKC lineup and make the Thunder big, stronger, more rugged and more passionate around the basket. And he'll do it immediately, which is a key.
If recent events in the NBA have taught anything, it's that the farmer approach of nurturing for the long, long haul is out the window. Less than two years ago, Carmelo Anthony had Denver in the Western Conference finals and now he's in New York. LeBron James became tired of waiting in Cleveland and took off for Miami. Deron Williams wouldn't commit to a long-term relationship in Utah and so now he's playing in New Jersey.
It's important to have a plan. It's also smart to be nimble and react.
Durant and Westbrook are only 22 years old. Harden and Ibaka are 21. This is still a rolling ball of Thunder that is built for the future. But it just became one that could make real noise now.
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