While the Thunder have surely risen to contender status, their ascent has hardly been due to the efforts of Perkins. In fact, the big man has so greatly underperformed that he is arguably more of a liability than an asset. He now looks like a potential amnesty candidate for the Thunder.
Perkins first gained league-wide recognition for his stellar defensive play against Howard while playing for the Celtics. And while he has since lost a step due to injuries and age, he remains a presence due to his strength and toughness.
Whether they like it or not, the Thunder will have to defeat Howard and the Lakers in order to have any hope of winning an NBA title. And though Serge Ibaka has proven to be an excellent shot-blocker, he cannot hope to guard Howard as effectively as Perkins has in the past.
But while Perkins may have value as a stopper against Howard, his offensive shortcomings outweigh the defensive boost he provides.
Despite playing nearly 27 minutes per game last season, Perkins averaged just five points per game while shooting at a relatively poor percentage for his position, especially considering he rarely shot outside of the rim area.
Furthermore, Perkins posted an abysmal 8.69 PER, miles below the average of 15. Not only did he put up mediocre numbers, but he was also terribly inefficient while doing it.
Considering his increasingly weak production, Perkins no longer looks worthy of playing big minutes for the Thunder, especially given their style of play.
The Thunder must accept that they are not going to beat the Lakers on the inside. OKC’s three best players thrive on the perimeter, and that is where it must outdo the Lakers.
Rather than allowing the Lakers to repeatedly feed Howard with post-ups and keep the game moving at a crawl, the Thunder must play to their own strengths and seek to neutralize Howard’s impact by attacking in transition and forcing perimeter play.
While Perkins may be the best option to defend Howard one-on-one, the Thunder’s best defense may be a fast and explosive offense. That cannot be achieved with an astonishingly slow and offensively inept center lumbering around the court.
Perkins’ value must also be considered in comparison to 2012 Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden. Deserved or not, Perk makes close to eight million dollars next season, which takes a major chunk out of the Thunder’s financial flexibility.
This is especially relevant given the uncertainty surrounding Harden’s future in OKC. Harden will be a restricted free agent next summer, and if left unattended, is sure to command a maximum contract from interested teams.
Amnestying Perkins would give the Thunder a significant boost in cap flexibility, greatly improving their chances of retaining Harden at a price worthy of his talents.
Despite his flaws, Perkins does have value as a post defender and rebounder, and he is a significantly better option than the other true centers on OKC’s roster (Cole Aldrich and Hasheem Thabeet). Though his numbers were pretty terrible last season, he can make the Thunder a better team if given a more logical role.
But are Perkins’ contributions substantial enough that they justify missing out on the prime years of a rising star in Harden?
Should the choice come down to Perkins or Harden, the Thunder must stick with Harden and trust in Ibaka and Nick Collison to do just enough to slow Howard down in the post so that the Thunder’s dynamic perimeter trio can work their magic.
Don’t be surprised if the Thunder opt to amnesty Perkins next season. While the team would ideally be able to keep him on board as a stopper in the post, OKC’s priority should undoubtedly be retaining Harden, and Perkins is the most logical casualty in the quest to do so.