Could the most cost-efficient center in the NBA be playing in Oklahoma City?
That might very well be what has quietly taken shape.
When the Thunder inked Kendrick Perkins to a four-year, $32 million extension days after acquiring him from Boston in a blockbuster trade that sent Jeff Green among others east, some observers scoffed. They snickered louder when Perkins finally took the court and gave everything he had but struggled while playing on bad wheels.
Look who's laughing now.
After a whirlwind free agency period finally came to some sort of calm with Sunday's start to the regular season, the Thunder, which didn't make a single splash, came out as the big winners. And it's all thanks to the once-ridiculed extension for Perkins being in place before the frenzy.
The Thunder has Perkins locked up for a relatively cheap $8 million per year over the next four seasons. His peers commanded nearly two times that amount this offseason.
Denver broke the bank by giving Nene $65 million over five years. New York backed in a Brinks truck to Tyson Chandler's home and splurged $56 million over four years for his services. Memphis gave Marc Gasol roughly $58 million over four years to continue anchoring its frontcourt alongside Zach Randolph.
The Thunder, though, never allowed the bidding for Perkins to begin. And when OKC offered a respectable deal, Perkins pounced.
“I'm a country boy,” Perkins said the day he signed last spring. “I'm from Beaumont, Texas. I didn't have a crazy number in mind.”
Good thing, too.
Imagine what Perkins, who is now healthy, could have commanded on the open market. And remember, we're talking about a player who was considered the best low-post man defender in basketball during his best days. When you consider that, at 27, Perk's best days are only beginning, it's scary to think how exorbitant his figure could have become.
The Clippers, by comparison, will shell out $42 million over the next four seasons just to keep its foul-plagued center DeAndre Jordan. Golden State gave Kwame Brown, notorious for being a bust as a former No. 1 overall pick, $7 million. Houston handed the same amount to Samuel Dalembert.
Perkins is not as talented as some of those players. He doesn't run as fast or jump as high as others. And teams throughout NBA history have ponied up more for offense than defense, with halfway functional big men perhaps being the biggest beneficiaries of that philosophy.
But the question you must ask is what will the contracts for Chandler and Nene and Gasol and others look like in just two seasons? That's when the NBA's more punitive luxury tax kicks in and the dollar-for-dollar tax skyrockets more and more as payrolls mount.
That's the nightmare the Thunder avoided with the shrewd move it made last spring.