Go Green…No Really, Go
10:10 AM EST on February 25, 2011
NBA analysts are all euphoric in regards to the major trades consummated by Thunder General Manager Sam Presti just before yesterday's trade deadline.
"The Thunder’s trades for Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed basically put the finishing touches on a rebuilding project that began in Seattle in June of 2007, adding the low-post defense and interior toughness that was the final hurdle to their rivaling the big boys in the West." ~ John Hollinger, ESPN
“As for the Thunder, this is a brilliant move." ~ Zach Lowe, Sports Illustrated
“My first thought was: Wow, the Thunder are gearing up to be Laker-killers.." ~ Henry Abbott, TrueHoop Blog ESPN
These are just a sampling of the plethora of print journalists praising the Thunder for vaulting themselves from the label of "potential contender" to "contender for the championship this season." Television pundits were equally as kind. The ESPN Basketball Tonight: Trade Deadline special was basically an hour long program dedicated to deifying Presti, and the NBAtv special saw every studio member list the Thunder first on their "winners" category.
For those of you who live under a rock and/or dislike basketball--in which case, thank you for reading anyway--these amazing transactions pulled off by Oklahoma City managment were:
- Receiving center Kendrick Perkins and combo-midget Nate Robinson from Boston for out-of-position power forward Jeff Green and out of position center Nenad Krstic
- Picking up center Nazr Mohammed from Charlotte for seldom used power forward D.J. White and never used shooting guard Morris Peterson
Most fans analyzing from a basketball perspective, myself included, have to agree with the experts. Perkins and Mohammed are both defensive-minded big men with the mean streak the team has always lacked. Perkins is a wide load who has battled the Lakers twice in the NBA Finals (winning one ring) and is credited with propelling the team to that second showdown thanks to him personally shutting down Magic superstar Dwight Howard. (Conversely, his injury in Game 6 of the Finals is thought to be the sole reason the Celtics are not currently the defending champs.) Still only 26 despite eight years of experience in the league, he is a savvy veteran, and young building block.
Meanwhile, Mohammed is past his prime, but still a veteran who has been the starting center for a championship team (2005 Spurs). He is an excellent defender, and has the 2nd best offensive rebounding percentage of any active player, meaning he will get a ton of easy putback baskets and give the Thunder extra possessions. Even the Boston throw-in Nate Robinson could have an impact for the team as a sparkplug scorer off the bench while being the kind of excited personality that can cheerlead the team as a reserve.
In the Charlotte deal, the Thunder gave up nothing. Absolutely nothing. White had decent numbers in limited minutes, but Head Coach Scott Brooks obviously never felt comfortable inserting him into the game. Peterson had scored a total of four points all season despite being the second highest player on the team (he was acquired from New Orleans, who wanted to dump his salary for salary cap purposes, as part of the deal that netted the team Cole Aldrich).
What the team gave up to Boston, however, is why much of the Thunder fanbase is depressed today.
When the Seattle SuperSonics moved to the 405 and were rebranded as the Thunder, we were sold the team as a vehicle starring Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. Their personalities were perfect for this market. Both unassuming, both quiet, both passionate about basketball and basketball only. In the team's second season here, when they made a leap from league doormat to playoff team, the two players were co-captains.
Despite being the consummate teammate and glue guy, Green was the most polarizing player on the team. Those whose primary attachment to the team was emotional placed him on a pedestal. Many of those fans who cared only about wins and losses blamed him for every shortcoming of the team. Fans in the former category dismissed his meager rebounding figures (while playing a position that generally leads a team in the category) and regular shooting slumps as immaterial to the "intangibles" he brought to the floor and balked at the suggestion he should come off the bench so Serge Ibaka could start. People in the latter category wanted to burn Green in effigy and trade him for a pack of Lucky Strikes.
It is the emotional fans who are hurting today. As the fanbase has grown into an NBA fanbase, Green with the rest of the team has grown with them. Shipping him away for players that have not been part of that DNA hurts. If the player and managment reactions are any indication, this is perfectly reasonable. My wife, being one those fans, was the first person I talked to upon learning about the trade. I thought she needed to hear it from me rather than someone on the street. That's how attached we have grown to these players.
To me, it reminds me of my professional career. When I left college to work for a bigger CPA firm, I remember when an employee would leave or be fired it was no big deal. People who work in that industry are generally short-timers, much like any player the Thunder has lost to date. When Earl Watson was bought out, Damien Wilkins was traded, or Robert Swift was released, the fans and team were well aware that those guys were only filler on the team, so the reaction was the same as when I'd check my email to find out a senior auditor had taken a job with one of the firm's clients. Good for them, right?
Then I moved on to a large Oil company, the department had a more stable feel, much like the core of the Thunder now. When a staff meeting would be called to announce layoffs or corporate restructuring to bring in a new look to the organization, my heart would sink. The rest of the day, even for weeks afterward, I would breathe heavier even though in many ways it was for the best. I thought of this when I read a tweet from Kevin Durant last night:
It's so quiet on the bus ride to the hotel u can hear (Russell Westbrook's) heart beat...
This was followed by every Thunder player with a Twitter account agreeing with the sentiment. Even Presti, who approved the transactions, seemed pretty shaken up.
“Jeff Green is like my son. I love that kid. This is by far the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make since I started this job.”
In the long term, this deal should make the team much better, but the initial shock of losing a compatriot and founding member of The Broingtons will take a toll. To the players and fans. In the end, they will all end up loving Kendrick Perkins just as much. Especially when he is instrumental in winning the team a few rings.