Oklahoma City Thunder Must Amnesty Kendrick Perkins Despite Dwight Howard Trade

Ben LorimerSenior Analyst IISeptember 3, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 17:  Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 17, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I love Kendrick Perkins! I know the title of this article may beg to differ, but to me he is the single biggest reason why in the space of a year the Thunder went from a team that got blown away by Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks, to the beaten finalists.

His hard nosed manner and competitive, combative nature rubbed off on the rest of the team over the off season, and his experience helped turn Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook into playoff warriors way ahead of schedule.

However, his presence will quickly turn into an anchor for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and in the interests of keeping Serge Ibaka and James Harden next off season, Perkins should be let go early enough so our young guns never hit the open market.

The NBA is evolving into a game of speed rather than that of bulk, and Perkins forte; locking down "big" men in the paint is becoming less and less relevant.

At the moment in the NBA, there are only three players who are good enough at scoring in the low post to justify having Perkins' poor shooting and plodding feet on the court. They are Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Tim Duncan. However, Duncan is shrinking as an offensive difference maker, and there are no young 280 lbs low-post scorers coming into the league to signal a resurgence in that style of game.

Perkin's skills are quickly becoming an unnecessary art. Also, while I thought his presence really helped the young and youthful Thunder team in 2010, the 2012 version has enough veteran savvy playoff experience and desperation to win in the youthful core, making Perkins psychological presence no longer necessary.

Of course, Dwight Howard does play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be the big challenge for the Thunder in the Western Conference. So surely, the Thunder would be wise to keep Perkin's big contract, if only to nullify Howard in the (presumed) Western Conference Finals.

Perkins never really shut down Howard when they matched up in the playoffs (just stopped him from exploding) when he wore green, and since then his athleticism and overall defense has taken a big drop. To me, he would not be significantly better than Serge Ibaka or Hasheem Thabeet in that role.

Also, with Ibaka already on the team, the Thunder have an ideal candidate to use as a small center, which is the way the NBA is moving. While he lacks the bulk of Perkins, Ibaka has the athleticism, length and potential to be a great defensive force under the hoop.

He would need to get stronger and stop freelancing for blocks, but if he can do this Ibaka would be able to erase the new breed of centers like Chris Bosh and JaVale McGee. Also, his athleticism would be useful in dealing with Dwight Howard, who frankly can run rings around Perkins.

Ibaka's athleticism also makes him a better pick and roll defender. While his positional play still needs to improve, Perkins slowness made him worse than Ibaka last season, and with another year of learning Ibaka should have improved from there.

The element of the Lakers offense that most people ignore when analyzing Howard's impact on the team is his proficiency at the pick and roll.

With Steve Nash, the greatest ever pick and roll facilitator on the team, is it not obvious that if Perkins was on the floor the Lakers would just go to the pick and roll time after time. Ibaka would do a much better job shutting this play down, and his shot blocking abilities and skill at not drawing fouls makes putting him on Dwight Howard with his back to the basket a much better prospect than Perkins trying to stop penetration on a pick and roll.  

Putting Ibaka at center would also let the Thunder get their best players on the floor. With Kevin Durant playing a stretch power forward in the same manner as LeBron James, the Thunder can play Thabo Sefolosha at small forward, James Harden at shooting guard, and Russell Westbrook at point guard.

These are undoubtedly the five best players on the Thunder roster. Also, when the Thunder want to get Perry Jones III on the floor, they can just more Durant back to small forward and give Sefolosha or Harden a breather.

This lineup base would be able to run the San Antonio Spurs off the court, would force the Los Angeles Lakers to go small for longer periods than they would want, and could run with the Miami Heat's small ball.

So, in conclusion, unless the Thunder can negotiate a major pay drop for Perkins this offseason, I believe the front office should let him go.

His presence on the team may cost the Thunder James Harden, and his defense has regressed and the game has changed to the point that he probably should not even be in the starting lineup. The Thunder would have better playoff chances if they let him go, and I wish they would.

Only time will tell now.