Nenad Krstic is headed back to Russia to play basketball. His one full season with the Thunder and parts of two others became largely footnotes. Think of it this way. Doesn’t it seem like Kendrick Perkins has always been the Thunder center? Does anyone remember much about the Krstic days?
Krstic went to Boston in the Perk trade and played OK. But with the looming lockout, Krstic is headed for European basketball, from where the Thunder signed him on Dec. 30, 2008.
But before Krstic is too far removed from the NBA, he deserves an Oklahoma City salute. The arrival of Krstic was no small part of the Thunder’s rapid ascension up the NBA food chain.
Krstic is not and never has been a great player. He’s functional, that’s what he is. Big enough, 7-foot and not skinny, to at least occasionally get in the way of opposing offenses. Decent enough hands to rebound a little. And very effective as a pick-and-pop shooter. This season, Russell Westbrook averaged 8.5 assists before the Krstic trade; Westbrook averaged 7.5 assists after the trade.
But Krstic’s value cannot be found in numbers. Krstic’s value resides in the hope that he brought to a franchise in shock.
The Thunder came to town in July, and by late December, its record was 3-29. THREE AND TWENTY-NINE! Oklahoma City was stunned at how bad its team was. We were writing about the historical ineptness of that team. Could it actually approach the 76ers’ record for futility, 9-73 in 1972-73?
And on that Dec. 30, the Thunder signed a 7-foot center who once was a very promising young NBA player and was still only 25 years old. Things suddenly seemed a little better. Krstic provided a sign that the Thunder was not merely content to just field a franchise. This organization actually wanted to get better. Wanted to compete. Wanted to spend its resources.
And a team that had been starting Johan Petro or Robert Swift at center, suddenly had a solid 7-foot center fall in its lap.
Now, Krstic was not the most important addition to that team. Ron Adams arrived virtually the same day as Krstic, joining Scotty Brooks staff and becoming an instant-fix defensive coordinator. The Thunder was 3-29 without Adams; 20-30 with him. Thabo Sefolosha arrived in February via trade and also fortified the defense. Westbrook’s advancement as a point guard increased mightily as the season progressed.
But Krstic’s arrival brought hope. He averaged 9.7 points a game that first Thunder season. By the next year, though Krstic remained a starter, his role was being reduced. By the 2009-10 season, Serge Ibaka’s ascension further cut into Krstic’s importance. By February 2011, Krstic was expendable, and the trade for Perkins solidified the Thunder interior for the foreseeable future.
But in December 2008, Krstic was a beacon of hope. A symbol of better days ahead. He wasn’t a bad country ballplayer, either. Do well and be well, Nenad, the people of Oklahoma City will not soon forget you.