Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Kendrick Perkins' case weakens

by Berry Tramel Modified: October 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm •  Published: October 25, 2013
Regular readers of this blog know Jon Hamm. He’s an Oklahoman who is a contributor t0 Larry Coon’s website that tries to decipher the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. He’s a faithful reader who often writes me to set me straight on payroll issues or offer insight.
 
Hamm sent me an essay Friday on Kendrick Perkins, and it was so good, I had two options. Just cull off his great lines and theories and claim them as my own. Or do the honorable thing and just give him the microphone. So here it is. Jon Hamm’s take on Perkins:
 
“The Thunder opened training camp in 2009 with a new enigmatic big man. Fans and media knew next to nothing about Serge Ibaka and expectations were set accordingly. The general assumption was that he would spend most of the year in Tulsa. Turns out, the guy was raw but had some skills that could help the team immediately. He didn’t begin the season in the rotation, but Coach Scott Brooks worked him in for two and three minute stints. Within two weeks, he had supplanted Etan Thomas as the backup center. Anyone that’s been paying attention since then knows the rest.
 
“I believe it will be déjà vu all over again in 2013 with Steven Adams. On draft night, we all had fun coming up with new ways to say that he wouldn’t be of any help to OKC this season. Someone joked that David Stern should have handed him a 66ers cap. I think Royce Young’s wife was prepared to buy Adams a Pikepass. But turns out, the Thunder’s enigmatic big man of 2013 just might be too good to keep benched all season.
 
“Adams’ impressive preseason play (and the word preseason should be emphasized in bold, italics and underline) has shed even more light on the boils and warts of Kendrick Perkins’ game. All of the nasty chatter I heard and read back in April and May has seemingly intensified. What it seems to me though is that fans don’t want Perkins benched, traded or amnestied. Fans want him fired.
 
“Only it doesn’t quite work out that way. Like the majority of NBA players, Perkins’ contract is guaranteed against Lack of Skill. There’s a term that ought to get the anti-Perkins crowd riled up. It’s actual NBA contract language.  And again, this isn’t unique. The vast majority of NBA players have contracts that are guaranteed against Lack of Skill. He enjoys the same protection that LeBron James and Kevin Durant have. He enjoys the same protection that Royce White (recently waived by the 76ers) had.
 
“I’ve done my share of defending Perkins and it gets more difficult by the day (especially when he’s allegedly punching people outside of nightclubs). His value was and is still on the defensive end and as a screen-setter on offense. After the playoffs there was much noise about his negative PER rating, an advanced stat created by John Hollinger. The problem with PER is it’s largely a product of offensive performance. Now, there’s not an advanced statistic alive that could make Perkins look competent on the offensive end. But there are advanced stats such as Regularized APM that show his value on the defensive end.  Maybe not $18M worth of value over the next two seasons, but he has value. Unfortunately, the NBA has yet to implement the equivalent of a designated hitter.
 
“It stands to reason that Perkins’ role will diminish as Adams improves. That’s opened up the idea that Perkins could be traded. Of course the most common response to that idea is, ‘who would want him?’ I’m here to testify that there is no such a thing as an untradeable contract in the NBA. Just in the past decade I’ve seen Shawn Kemp moved from Cleveland to Portland, Vin Baker from Seattle to Boston, and Baron Davis from the Clippers to the Cavaliers. Heck, Gilbert Arenas and Rashard Lewis traded for each other in a move that would be like swapping trash bins with your neighbor. All were traded at a time when they were considered too toxic to move.
 
“It’s possible that another team would want to acquire Perkins to upgrade their interior defense. Or the Thunder could try to move Perkins for the sake of unloading him. That usually means attaching other assets and trading with a rebuilding team. I’m not sure if anyone’s noticed, but a few teams are basically taking this season off (Utah, Phoenix and Philadelphia come to mind).  It’s possible a team like Atlanta could shift into full rebuild mode if they get off to a shaky start. The Thunder have a future first-round pick from Dallas that could be valuable in addition to all of their own future first-round picks. They also have the draft rights to players like Tibor Pleiss or Alex Abrines that may hold value.
 
“The other kicker is that those aforementioned teams also have to think about their payroll in 2014-15. The NBA has a salary floor that requires teams to spend at least 90 percent of their salary cap. Those three teams I mentioned above (Utah, Phoenix and Philly) are all on a path to be significantly under the salary floor next season. None are likely to be major free agent shoppers after this season. So it’s not unreasonable to think they might be enticed to take on salary for next season well before then. For example, Charlotte did this last year when they acquired Ben Gordon and a first-round pick from Detroit for the expiring contract of Corey Maggette.
 
“But if history is any indication, Sam Presti isn’t exactly fond of giving away assets that may produce inexpensive and productive talent, so that may not be very likely. The less radical reality is that Perkins will probably be with the team all season and then an amnesty consideration will be made after the season.
 
“Thanks, Steven Adams, for unexpectedly bringing the Perkins discussion to a boil again.”
 
Great, great stuff. Thanks, Jon. My responses:
 
1. The Ibaka/Adams comparisons are interesting. And Hamm is right. No one saw Ibaka coming that quickly. But when we saw it, we saw it. I don’t remember seeing it in preseason. If Adams shows anything close the first few weeks of the regular season to what he showed in preseason, the plan is absolutely accelerated.
 
2. If Adams is the real deal, wow. That puts the Thunder in a whole new world for next season. Perkins can be amnestied (or I suppose traded), Adams can step in and suddenly the Thunder has a bunch of cap room to go get themselves a supplemental ballplayer for 2014-15. Someone of high caliber. They would have more money to spend than what the Timberwolves spent on Kevin Martin.
 
3. I like Hamm because, he like me, is one of the dinosaurs brave enough to defend Perkins. The criticism of Perk’s PER, playoffs or not, has always been silly. It’s an offensive barometer. It would be clamoring for the ’68 Cardinals to get rid of Dal Maxvill or the ’70 Orioles to get rid of Mark Belanger. They weren’t on the field for their offense. Neither is Perkins.
 
4. Hamm is right. No one is untradeable. But there’s nothing easy about trading a contract like Perkins’. And I don’t see Presti letting go of that Dallas draft pick.
 

Anyway, great, great stuff. From Jon Hamm. Keep ‘em coming.

 
 
by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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