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Berry Tramel  


Oklahoma City Thunder: Lunch chat

by Berry Tramel Modified: May 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm •  Published: May 17, 2013

The Thunder conducted post-season interviews Thursday during my scheduled time for the lunch chat, so I was absent without leave. But I copied the questions and am now prepared to answer them. Thanks for holding out with me.

B: Is there a big man out there the Thunder will seriously considering going after this offseason?

I don’t think so. It’s possible, but I doubt it. To amnesty Perkins, you’d end up paying more money and probably not getting as good a player. The Thunder does not need offense out of its post man. It needs defense. I know, Charles Barkley keeps saying the Thunder needs post offense. And if the Thunder had an extra $30 million lying around, maybe it could be purchase some post offense. But the Thunder’s offense (second in the league) has less room for improvement than the Thunder’s defense (fourth in the league).

Jack:  Odds the Thunder amnesty Perkins?

I’m saying small, for the reasons I gave. The Thunder would end up paying Perkins, oh, $15-16 million over the next two seasons, plus you’d have to pay a guy to replace him. Let’s say you’re willing to go $3 million a year for a center. Could you find a better player than Perkins – again, don’t bombard me with all the offensive ineptness stuff; Perk’s role is to plug the middle and stay out of the way on offense, which he mostly does when Westbrook is healthy – for $3 million? No. So why pay $10.5 million a year for the same or worse player? It makes no sense.

Bill: Do you think that the number 2 PG should be more of a true point guard (like an Eric Maynor) to compliment Westbrook’s game?

I don’t know how a true point guard complements Westbrook’s game one way or the other. I like good point guards. I like the Eric Maynor of 2011. The Eric Maynor of 2012 and 2013, eh. True is the wrong word. Traditional is the right word. And traditional doesn’t do it for me. I like what works.

Guest: “Collison is really starting to regress. I think it is time for the Thunder to ‘sell high’ on Collison and trade him. He is a quality big man on a cheap contract, what do you think his trade value is if he is coupled with the draft picks?”

Let me get something straight. You describe Collison as a “quality big man on a cheap contract” and you want to trade him? Here’s how you win in the NBA. Get a star or two or three, then surround them with quality players on cheap contracts. The Thunder needs more Collisons, not fewer.

Jim: “Is Perkins worth 9 Million dollars yes or no?”

No. He’s not worth $9 million. The contract was a good contract, but now it’s a bad contract, with the new luxury tax. But that doesn’t mean you eat the contract. Don’t cut off your face to spite your nose.

Guest: “Do you think Reggie will be the 6th man next year?”

I’m going to guess yes, but it could go either way. Three options: 1. re-sign Kevin Martin, for a reduced price, of course; 2. Make Reggie Jackson the sixth man; 3. bring in a quality veteran willing to play for a reduced price just to be on the squad with Durant and Westbrook. A Paul Pierce or somebody.

Michael: With the post-spring depth chart reading J.W. Walsh OR Clint Chelf, what are the odds that Walsh gets a chance to win the starting job over the summer and into fall camp? He was the most productive QB last season and seems to be the guy the team responds to best. Chelf’s 2nd half performances against OU and Baylor lead me to believe he can’t make plays when it matters most.”

I think the job is Chelf’s. I think Wes Lunt clearly was Chelf’s chief competition. Walsh just can’t make the deep-out throws that this offense thrives on. If you go with Walsh, you really have to re-tool the offense.

Ray: “You hear that Buddy Hudson passed away on Tuesday? The first African-American to play basketball at OU.”

I did not hear that. Condolences to all concerned.

John: “More than anything tangible Russell did on the court, I think they missed his passion, motor and energy. Agree?”

Mostly agree, although that passion and energy led to tangibles, like uptempo buckets when the squad was dragging.

Jerry: “If they have to keep Perkins, can they just not play him at all and tell him that, and maybe he will get the message and want a trade? I would rather see Tabet play, he is a slug also, but taller. They will never get better, and even with Westbrook get any further, without a better center, in my humble opinion.”

I would have to say it is quite a humble opinion. With Perkins as the center and playing half the game, the Thunder made the NBA Finals a year ago and was in prime position to do the same this season. Westbrook goes down, the Thunder loses (which is what happens to virtually every quality team that loses a superstar) and everybody demands Perk’s head.

Guest: “Will Scott Brooks excuse himself for giving an excuse not having Westbrook is the reason they lost?”

I assume you’re trying to trash Brooks. Nice try.

Guest: “Will the Thunder get an experienced center to lead them in scoring, rebounding and block shots, as no intimidating big player has ever wore a Thunder uniform?”

Let’s see. Scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Wilt, Jabbar, Olajuwon, Shaq and Ewing are a little north of the proper age. So do you want Dwight Howard? You can’t trade Westbrook for him, because if Durant’s still around, Durant would still lead the team in scoring, and we can’t have that, can we? So call up the Lakers, have them do a sign-and-trade with OKC. Howard for Durant. Then toss in Perk for Antawn Jamison or someone. That should make everyone happy.

Guest: “Can’t the Thunder get a big center capable of playing full time next year, through free agency or draft, as it surely needs ones pronto?”

Yep, the draft is producing quality centers by the truck load. The rosters can’t even hold them all. There’s probably 15 great centers down in the D League.  Well everybody just settle down, please? The Thunder has a meticulously-constructed roster. Everyone has a role. Perkins’ role is to play defense, which he does really well, and rebound, which he’s so-so at and needs to get better, and be a locker-room presence, which from all accounts, he does really well. Get a big center who stays at the low block, and sure, OKC will get a ton more points from its center position. And Russell Westbrook will go coo-coo by December, because suddenly his lane is clogged. The drives of Westbrook and Durant will be curtailed. The Thunder is built a certain way, and so far, the only thing that’s derailed OKC has been LeBron James and a fluke injury. You don’t go scrapping plans that work.

Guest: “Is this the best Brooks can do on the 5th game with shortening his rotations with 8 players? He’s weird.”

What did you want him to do? Play Daniel Orton and Jeremy Lamb?

Guest: “Do you believe that Brooks is lost on game tactics and relies only to win games by Durant and Westbrook solely?”

No. But I will say that he’s not a great tactician. I’m not sure who is, except maybe Popovich. Was Lionel Hollins a great tactician in this series? Did Memphis’ offense dazzle you. They dumped the ball to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and hoped things worked out. Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn’t.

Guest: “Can you say that the playoff losses can come to bite Brooks soon, as he is exposed to lacking smartness and basketball savy?”

Or maybe even savvy? The answer to your question is no.

Guest: “Is Presti always just looking for draft picks, just to have an array of players he collected and traded away?”

Not always, but draft picks are precious, for this reason. Young talent is among the valuable commodity in sports. Young talent comes cheap. Hard to win without it in any sport, unless you’re the Lakers or the Yankees and have an unlimited budget.

Guest: “How can Presti explain this loss to the Thunder fans, while their game to Memphis were close?”

Great question. You’re saying, if our team loses, it’s someone’s fault, because we have a divine right to win. Victories aren’t earned, you say, they are bequeathed to me as a fan, and if I don’t get them, I want heads to roll. You don’t need Presti to explain these defeats. I’ll do it for you. Memphis plays great defense. OKC didn’t have Westbrook. The Thunder couldn’t find enough points to win even defensive-minded games. It is zero percent complicated.

Guest: “Will this be the last year for the Thunder starters to be together, as they are pretenders and are one dimensional (mediocre defenders) and same as Brooks?”

I’m guessing no, though I guess it’s possible something happens with Perkins. The Thunder had the NBA’s fourth-best defense.

Guest: “Would you agree that Brooks will not change his one game fits all scenarios game tactic?”

No. Brooks changed all kinds of things throughout the playoffs, after Westbrook’s injury. His rotation. Defensive assignments. Durant’s responsibilities. Brooks constantly tried new things. His biggest blunder was not trying a faith healer for Westbrook.

Guest: “Is Brian Shaw (former Laker player and assistant) a capable coach for the Thunder?”

I assume Shaw would be a capable coach for most every NBA team.

Guest: “Whoever is responsible, Presti, Clay or Brooks, have they gone nuts on not getting a good center, as other teams not named Thunder or Heat have played real basketball? Basketball without a center, is like a boat having no rudder.”

Let me get this straight. Outside of the Heat and the Thunder, who played in the NBA Finals last year and likely would have played in the Finals this year, centers are needed. I have a question. Do you guys have any idea how ridiculous you sound?

Guest: “Miami cannot be patterned by Brooks or Presti becuase they have three all-star players and will beat you by their talent and experience, what do you think?”

I don’t think OKC is patterning itself after Brooks and Presti. The Thunder is patterning itself after the Spurs. And it seems to be working rather well.

Guest: “Somehow, the Thunder are not a physical team and are beaten by physical teams, the same way with the Heat, do you concur?”

No. The Thunder is a very physical team. Maybe not as physical as Memphis, but the Thunder didn’t lose to Memphis because of physicality. It lost to Memphis because the Thunder didn’t have Russell Westbrook.

Guest: “Why is the development of the Thunder rookies having to take a longtime for seeing improvement? Is it the players or the bad training from the coaches?”

It is the culture of the league. Only a few rookies prosper. The Thunder didn’t have playing time available for its current rookies. As for player development, has any team in the league matched OKC’s record for player development. James Harden went from shaky rookie – he didn’t make first team on the all-rookie squad – to Olympian two years later. Westbrook, I assume you know about. Serge, same way. This franchise has been splendid at player development.


by Berry Tramel
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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