General manager Sam Presti thinks at a different level than OKC Thunder fans, which helps explain why they are on totally separate wavelengths when it comes to evaluating maligned veteran center Kendrick Perkins.
Presti orchestrated a trade that brought Perkins and Nate Robinson from the Boston Celtics in exchange for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, a 2012 first-round draft pick (Fab Melo) and cash on Feb. 24, 2011. One week later, Presti signed Perkins to a four-year, $32.56-million extension that included likely incentives for $500,000 the last two seasons.
Beginning with the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement in 2011, teams were granted a one-time opportunity to release a player with an existing contract to remove him from the team’s salary and luxury tax totals. The amnestied player would still be paid in full by the team that waived him and/or claimed him.
With the Thunder armed with this bail-out clause, a growing number of Perkins critics believe the financial windfall of wiping his salary off books far outweighs any benefit of keeping him on the roster. Perkins’ substantial salary most notably prevented the Thunder from being able to stay under the league’s luxury tax threshold while attempting to sign James Harden to a contract extension prior to the 2012-13 season, which resulted in him being traded to Houston.
Presti has not, and still does not, view Perkins’ potential amnesty as beneficial, even though it would remove $9.4 million off the team's 2014-15 salary.
With this being the final year of Perkins’ contract, Presti is down to his last opportunity to use the provision on Perkins and must do so the week of July 10-16. (Kevin Durant and Nick Collison also are eligible for amnesty, but that’s not happening.)
“We’ll look at everything, as we always do,” Presti said during his exit interview on Thursday. “But as we’ve said before, it’s not something that’s been considered to this point. Kendrick, as we know, is someone who has contributed to a lot to our success.”
Detractors never fully embraced that Perkins was acquired for his defense (career averages of 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks), not his offense (5.7 points). Fueling the amnesty debate is the emergence of 20-year-old rookie Steven Adams, who seems destined for OKC’s starting lineup perhaps as early as next season, which in theory would make Perkins even more expendable.
Again, Presti does not agree and said Perkins’ interior defense helped prolong the Thunder’s 2013-14 postseason, which in turn gave Adams an opportunity to progress and at times shine in playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs.
OKC’s regular-season record with Perkins in the starting lineup is a sparkling 165-57 (.743). The Thunder went just 11-9 (.550) this season without Perkins.
“I ask everyone this question, if our run ended with Game 5 of the Memphis series, we really wouldn’t know what Steven was capable of and we may be looking at all those (amnesty) questions a little bit differently,” Presti said. “The opportunity for us to continue to play gave us the opportunity to learn, but that 10-game stretch shouldn’t really change our thinking too much, and I think Perk has really helped him in that regard. There’s no question that Steven has a bright future here. Moderation has always been helpful for us in our development.”
Without Perkins’ experience and physicality, OKC likely would not have survived the opening playoff round against the Grizzlies, who held a 3-2 series lead after winning Game 5 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Quite honestly, we’d be having this press conference a lot sooner if he (Perkins) was not a part of this organization when we took the floor against Memphis,” Presti said. “This conversation probably would be happening in May and not June.”
Adams was particularly efficient at times in his first postseason, averaging 4.1 rebounds, 3.9 points and 1.33 blocked shots in 18.4 minutes while shooting 68.9 percent from the field. In part, Presti credits Perkins.
“We understand there are certain things he (Perkins is) exceptional at,” Presti said. “I think he’s been wonderful for Steven Adams and I think he’s had a lot to do with Steven’s growth, specifically in the postseason with how he studies and plays position defense. It would take something that would really help us strategically to look at that (amnesty for Perkins).
“I think we can all look back on this season and say it was very productive for Steven. I think we see not only a player that fits our profile in terms of the work ethic and the concentration on improvement that we value, but also a significant player who can fit the profile that we look at (each position) as well. With that being said, I think we also have to understand that it’s going to be a long road for him. There’s going to be some ups and downs.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said during his exit interview Sunday it “remains to be seen” who will start at center in 2014-15.
“Next season is going to be what it’s going to be,” the 29-year-old Perkins said of battling Adams. “I feel like he’s a competitor, and I’m a competitor. Just knowing myself, I know this off-season is going be the biggest off-season of my career. It’s my first time ever ... when I’m going to be an unrestricted free agent. So definitely (I've) got to come back in better shape and try to get back to the basketball that I played in Boston. So that’s my goal.”
Perkins is battling for his starting job, but not for his NBA job because Presti sees far more benefit in keeping Perkins than in paying him $9.4 million to not play for OKC.
“Again, anything with Kendrick (being amnestied) would have to have some kind of strategic advantage,” Presti said. “To this point, it’s not something we’ve really looked at because we have not seen the advantage.”