Kendrick Perkins Deal Proves Oklahoma City Is a Thunderous Force in the West

Joseph FafinskiCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2011

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JANUARY 30:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at Ford Center on January 30, 2011 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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In perhaps a questionable deal yesterday, the Celtics sent Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson packing to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.

The Thunder received their biggest need in a proven physical big, and in turn shipped their most tradable member of the roster, Green, who was having troubles finding an identity in the Sooner State.

Suddenly, with the surprising addition of Perk, the Thunder look more like a defensive team that is ready to roll in the playoffs come April.

While Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant anchor the scoring and playmaking of the starters, guys like Thabo Sefolosha and now Perkins can carry the defensive load.

The only position that this deal puts into question is the four spot. Green was OKC's starting small forward, and with the swap Durant can resume his play in his natural position at the three.

So who does that leave at the four?

Serge Ibaka, the 6'10" Congo product who was last seen throwing down a slam from the free throw line, is now the de facto starter at power forward. Aside from his hops, Ibaka's strengths lie with his hands, and he has used those magic makers to swat more than two shots per game.

Throw in solid reserves like the sharpshooting James Harden and the playmaking Robinson and the Thunder, to me at least, now seem like a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference.

If you took a look at their starting lineup and compare it to the first-place Spurs, the differences are not as staggering as you might think. 

The Thunder have clear edges at the point guard (Russell Westbrook over Tony Parker), small forward (Kevin Durant over Richard Jefferson) and center (Kendrick Perkins over DeJuan Blair) positions over San Antonio's finest.

Lastly, look at what the other teams in the Northwest Division did during the week of the trade deadline. The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, whom the Thunder face twice each in the remainder of the season, lost their franchise players and are seemingly in turmoil for the next season or two.

There is no question in my mind that the Oklahoma City Thunder will win the Northwest Division this season, and they have built themselves to be a contender despite the youth of the roster.

Just take a look at the ages of the key players. Westbrook and Durant are 22, Ibaka and Harden are 21, and Sefolosha, Perkins, and Robinson are the "elders" at 26 years of age.

The fact of the matter is that the Thunder now have an identity for themselves.

Westbrook is already one of the best point guards in the league, and is putting up more 22 points and eight assists on a given night. Chicago's Derrick Rose is the only other player in the NBA that averages 21 and eight.

Sefolosha has made his name known, like Perkins, through his defensive stuff. He is one of the best lockdown defenders in the league, and you can bet that he'll be guarding Kobe or Manu come crunch time.

Durant is the best pure scorer of my lifetime, and he is also becoming one of the more clutch performers. His defense and athleticism are improving over time, and he has in no way regressed his outstanding game.

Ibaka is a block machine, as previously mentioned. He can also score and rebound adequately, made clear by his nine point and seven rebound average before being handed a spot in the starting rotation.

Perkins is a defensive specialist who can block like Ibaka and steal like Caron Butler if he needs to. I expect him to be a mainstay in Oklahoma.

While the trade itself may not seem like such a big deal, the fact is that Perkins' defensive skills alone have helped make Oklahoma City a defensively improved perennial contender.