Five things I learned from the Thunder exit interviews on Sunday, which included Scotty Brooks, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson.
1. Thabo’s not coming back. It’s not official, of course, and that’s what we believed anyway. But hearing Thabo talk, I just don’t see it. His offensive game disintegrated, and his defense wasn’t stellar in the playoffs. Scotty Brooks twice benched Sefolosha – the final two games of the Memphis series, the final four games of the San Antonio – and basically didn’t use him even off the bench.
It’s hard to go from starting to not starting. But going from starting to not playing? That seems a clear message.
Thabo, whose four-year contract expires this summer, said he had “no clue” on whether he’d be back. “I’m going to have to take some time to think about a lot of things and see the options and take it from there.”
Taking it from there means taking it away from Oklahoma City. Thabo won’t have great market appeal, but he will be wanted. Some franchises like players who have won. Most franchises like players who aren’t selfish and don’t care about how many shots they get. Injuries seem to have dropped Thabo from elite-defender status. But that doesn’t mean he’s still not a good defender. The Thunder is competing in high-stakes basketball. It needs a big-time defender on the wing. It’s no high crime if Thabo no longer fits the bill.
2. Derek Fisher’s not coming back. And not just because of the emotional virtual-farewell he delivered Sunday. Rather, a question from Billy Witz of the New York Times proved to be very enlightening, regardless of how Fisher responded. Witz asked, regardless of how Fisher felt about playing, if Fisher had to concede the remarkable confluence of both the Knickerbocker and Laker jobs coming open this off-season, just as Fisher seems ready to retire from playing. The team for which Fisher played 13 seasons (Lakers) and the team now run by Phil Jackson, Fish’s long-time coach in LA.
“It’s surreal to think about, for sure,” Fisher said. “So much of life is timing and opportunity and being able to take advantage of the right opportunities and the right situations at the right time. Always been that way as a player, you get drafted to the right team at the right time, or you sign as a free agent on the right team at the right time, it makes all the difference in the world. So there’s for sure huge layers added to personal relationship and professional relationship with Phil Jackson over the years, him being in the position that he’s in. And like you said also, with the Lakers having an opening, it for sure adds layers to it.”
3. Kendrick Perkins knows he’s regressed. I remain a charter member of the Gran Torino Fan Club. And Perkins’ value to the Thunder remains high. In fact, you could argue that Perk needed to play more against the Spurs, not less. Down the stretch of Game 6, when the Spurs kept getting the ball to Tim Duncan on the lower block with a lesser defender on him, often with a small guy like Reggie Jackson or Fisher, the Thunder kept giving up easy baskets. That doesn’t happen with Perk in the game.
And Perkins was much better in these playoffs than in the 2013 playoffs, when he wasn’t good at all. Against Memphis, the Clippers and San Antonio, Perk’s value was high. He neutralized impact post players like Zach Randolph, DeAndre Jordan and Duncan. Some people still talk of amnestying Gran Torino, cutting him from the last year of his contract, but that won’t happen. His post defense is too good.
But Perkins, despite a playoff renaissance, doesn’t rebound like he once did and doesn’t score at all. Perkins once averaged a double-double in a playoff series. He won’t do that again. And he’s not likely to improve. Players don’t get better at age 30, which is what Perkins will be next season.
At least he knows it, though. I asked Perkins if he’s ready to share time with Steven Adams next season, the way they did in the playoffs.
“Yeah, I mean, you just take it one game at a time,” Perkins said. “Next season is going to be what it’s going to be. I feel like he’s a competitor, and I’m a competitor. Just knowing myself, I know this off-season is going be the biggest off-season of my career, it’s my first time ever going be approaching a time when I’m going to be an unrestricted free agent. So definitely got to come back in better shape and try to get back to the basketball that I played in Boston. So that’s my goal.”
4. Reggie Jackson’s personality and Reggie Jackson’s fire don’t mesh. Jackson is among the most soft-spoken Boomers. He seems deferential. I remember last summer, at a Perkins gala, a fundraiser for Perk’s foundation. I can’t remember why I was there. But Jackson was there, sort of standing off to the side, not really mixing. And his face lit up when he saw me. Not that we have any kind of deep relationship, but he was just glad to see a familiar face.
Compare that to these words Jackson spoke Sunday, when asked if he was content to be a sixth man: “It’s tough. I’m really a control freak. I like to be in control. That’s kind of how I am. That’s how point guards tend to be. Kind of quirky. I like to feel in control. Kind of running the show.”
He said something like that in response to three different questions, so it wasn’t like he misspoke. The guy wants to be in the fire.
I think the Thunder will sign Jackson to a four-year contract extension this summer. But it won’t be easy. Jackson will want some assurances that have nothing to do with money.
5. Some players tune out the critics. I remember a story from the early Hornet days. Darnell Mayberry’s sidekick that first year was Andrew Gilman. The G-Man was talking to then-Hornet Rasual Butler one day and made a request of Butler. If I write something that you don’t agree with or something you think is wrong, come and tell me about it. Maybe we’ll agree to disagree, or maybe you’ll straighten me out and I can correct it, but just let me know.
Butler looked at Gilman with a strange face and said, “I don’t care what you write.”
I don’t know how prevalent that thought really is in the NBA, but Nick Collison made me think of it Sunday, when asked if he would watch the Miami-San Antonio series.
“I’m either or,” Collison said. “If I’m at home and the game’s on, I’ll watch. I’ll be interested to see who wins. But I don’t make it a priority to sit and watch. I definitely don’t watch people talk about basketball. It’s something I gave up a long time ago. I think that’s for fans. It’s great for the game. But it’s not for players. It’s not meant for players. It’s meant for other people. So I don’t watch that stuff. I don’t watch the pregame shows. But I watch the games.”
Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaq? They sometimes are more entertaining than the game itself. But Collison doesn’t watch. He didn’t elaborate on why. But here’s my guess. The discussion of basketball on those shows, and frankly in virtually all media, is rather elementary compared to how the game is really played.