Less than 24 hours after bowing out to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder—wounds still fresh—were back at their practice facility to field questions from reporters.
The Daily Thunder’s Royce Young has a tremendous compendium of some of the day’s most notable sound bytes (and there were plenty), but this one-off from head coach Scott Brooks on the long-term fate of center Kendrick Perkins may have been the most intriguing:
“That remains to be seen," Brooks said. "There’s a lot of work that needs to be done this summer. Obviously [Perkins] has been a big part of what we’ve done over the years... Positions are available. I can say that.”
Well, we know of at least three positions that absolutely won’t be available—at least until the next ice age: point guard, small forward and power forward, currently occupied by Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, respectively.
That leaves center or shooting guard, which have both been in flux at various points throughout the past few seasons.
The two-spot may be OKC’s most easily remedied, with Thabo Sefolosha slated to enter unrestricted free agency and third-year guard Reggie Jackson having emerged as a legitimate backcourt force.
It gets a little trickier with Perkins, whom the Thunder brought aboard in the 2011 trade that sent Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics.
Perkins was supposed to provide the Thunder with much needed interior defense, not to mention a steadfast veteran presence. But, while the latter may have been covered in spades, Perk’s glaring ineffectiveness on offense has routinely given the Thunder rotational fits.
Here’s a fun fact: According to NBA.com (subscription only), of OKC’s five most oft-used lineups during the regular season—the top two of which feature Perkins at the five—none of them posted a positive overall net rating.
And while the Thunder have had intermittent success using a small-ball lineup with Ibaka at center, whether that can be anything resembling a long-term solution is a pressing question indeed.
With one year and $9.1 million left on Perkins’ contract, it seems likely that the Thunder will at least explore the possibility of dealing him ahead of next year’s trade deadline.
In the meantime, OKC will surely be banking on a second-year leap from Steven Adams, the rangy New Zealander whose sheer raw talent (he only started playing the game as a teenager, per DraftExpress.com) made for a promising debut season.
However, in his excellent synopsis from back in February, Bleacher Report’s Fred Katz issued more than a few words of caution to those who would anoint Adams the starting center in exile:
Adams is a work in progress. He's not all the way there. He's the typical project, but he's growing. He's improving.
Right now, the Thunder need a fourth big man who can at least play some minutes. With the inherent unreliability of a rookie and the constant foul trouble in which Collison and Adams find themselves, another center or power forward is more than necessary in the long run.
For now, though, Adams can work as a place holder. And maybe by the time Perkins returns, Scott Brooks will realize he already has the team's best center in the starting lineup.
At just 20 years old, Adams probably isn’t OKC’s immediate solution at center. But if the Thunder can somehow round out their frontcourt with a savvy offseason pickup, thereby giving Adams another year to grow into his role, they’ll at least have plenty of options heading into what promises to be a crucial 2014-15 campaign.
Who should start at center for OKC next year?
As for Perkins, he can certainly still be a useful piece on a good team—even a contending one. Whether that team will be the Thunder, however, has never seemed so uncertain.