With Kendrick Perkins in the fold, how close is the team to being championship caliber?
MIAMI — Kendrick Perkins wants you to know he isn't the savior some swear he is.
The recently-acquired center likes to think of himself as just another building block, not the final piece to the Oklahoma City Thunder's championship puzzle.
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Mar 15Kendrick Perkins makes his debut and scores 9 points. The...
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Thunder at Heat When: 7 p.m. Wednesday Where: American Airlines Arena TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722), ESPN (Cox 29, HD Ch. 720) Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM. THREE THINGS TO KNOW * Center Kendrick Perkins made his Thunder debut Monday at Washington, scoring six points with nine rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes. Perkins is now the full-time starter after missing nine games because of a sprained knee following his trade from Boston. * After losing a season-high five straight games, the Heat has won three in a row. Miami has defeated Los Angles, Memphis and San Antonio by an average of 23 points. * Thunder forward Serge Ibaka has tallied 15 blocked shots in the past two games. His two-game total is the franchise's most by a single player since Alton Lister in 1989.
“I'm just trying to bring what I know to these young guys,” said Perkins, who won it all with Boston in 2008. “We've got a good group of young guys that work hard, stay humble and are talented. I'm just trying to do what I can to come in and fit in.”
NBA analysts gushed over Oklahoma City as a title contender before the paperwork could be filed on the four-player deal with Boston that brought Perkins to town on Feb. 24. But the history of league champions suggests Perkins' arrival simply sparks a waiting game in Oklahoma City rather than a speedier trip to a title.
The NBA is the ultimate lunch line when it comes to championship winners, and, at best, the Thunder merely has taken its number with Perkins aboard. Over the past 31 years only eight franchises have been crowned as league champions. The Los Angeles Lakers have won 10 times over that span, Chicago has captured six titles, San Antonio and Boston each secured four championships, Detroit won it three times, Houston has two titles and Philadelphia and Miami each won one.
As the Thunder and Heat square off tonight inside American Airlines Arena, they'll represent the most likely franchises that figure to be next in line.
“There's no easy path to that level. You have to earn it by working every day,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, a member of the championship-winning 1994 Rockets. “We're getting pieces to having a good team. Perk is another good piece to getting where we want to get to.”
Perkins joins a stable of young talent that is led by soon-to-be back-to-back scoring champ Kevin Durant and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook. Together, despite both being just 22, they form the league's third highest scoring duo. And they're flanked by what appears to be the right blend of role players, a mix of veteran glue guys (Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha) and other young, untapped potential (James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor and Cole Aldrich).
“But it takes a lot of work, effort and good players,” Brooks said. “Not just one or two, it takes a team full of good players. And it takes some good fortune. We're building our team with some good players. We want to keep working and keep improving. I don't know when it's going to happen, but we think like champions. We do everything like a champion.”
Despite all the hype following last month's trade, the Thunder still looks to be a year away from true contention. The Lakers, Spurs and Celtics are the clear favorites for now. But as each of those teams continues to age, it's the Thunder's spry young nucleus that threatens to take over.
Growth is the name of the game at this point.
“You'll know when they're mature when they win a playoff series,” said Washington coach Flip Saunders, who reached the Conference Finals in four out of five seasons as coach of Minnesota and Detroit between 2004 and 2008. “That's their next step. And you hope that you can do that by winning your division and having home court advantage.”