With speculation rumbling about the future of Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks after the team was rudely ousted from the Western Conference Finals by the San Antonio Spurs, general manager Sam Presti moved quickly to quiet the roars.
Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman reported Thursday via Twitter:
Presti on Scott Brooks: “Scotty, I think, did an excellent job.”
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) June 5, 2014
Brooks said “Scott will come back a little bit better.” He’s safe.
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) June 5, 2014
Presti admittedly has a tough task—balancing the present of a team that fancies itself a member of the NBA’s elite, led by MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, against a future that will include the need to be fiscally sound.
Remember that the James Harden trade in October 2012 was triggered not by a desire to move the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Rather it was because owner Clay Bennett and Presti didn’t believe they could keep the emerging star without blowing up the salary structure of the club and blowing past the luxury tax line.
The Thunder got a bonus this season with the emergence of Reggie Jackson as a sort of Harden-lite, a productive guard off the bench who can allow Westbrook to move off the ball and give the Thunder more offensive punch than the starting tandem of Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha.
Of course, there are those that would argue that a reanimated corpse wouldn’t be a huge drop off offensively from Sefolosha.
But Sefolosha isn’t going to be a recurring problem. The man who ranked 47th among 49 NBA guards with at least 50 games started with a player efficiency rating of 10.4 (look on the bright side, he was ahead of both Iman Shumpert and Ben McLemore) will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after playing out the four-year, $13.8 million extension he signed in 2009.
For years, Sefolosha was thought of as one of those 3-and-D wing players. In 2013-14, however, he was really neither. He shot just 31.6 percent from 3-point range and put up a defensive rating of 104 (points per 100 possessions).
The bigger question for the Thunder is the status of erstwhile starting center Kendrick Perkins.
Perkins’ numbers make Sefolosha appear to be Michael Jordan. Among NBA players with at least 50 games played and 15 minutes per game averaged, Perkins was dead last in the NBA—No. 263 out of 2630—with a PER of 6.3.
But Presti said that when the amnesty window opens July 10-16, the Thunder will not exercise their right to use their amnesty provision on Perkins, who has one year and $9.1 million remaining on his contract.
“I knew I’d get that question,” Presti said. “I wish I had something clever to say there, but I don’t. We’ll look at everything, as we always do. But as we’ve said before, it’s not something that’s been considered to this point.”
Perkins averaged 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season, playing 19.5 minutes per game. That projects out to very unspectacular per-36 averages of 6.3 and 9.1, respectively.
While that may lead some to think that Perkins’ presence stunts the growth of rookie center Steven Adams, who surpassed expectations wildly in 2013-14, Presti sees it differently.
“He’s been wonderful for Steven Adams,” Presti said of Perkins. “I think he’s had a lot to do with Steven’s growth, especially in the postseason, specifically how he studies and plays position defense.”
Forgive me for making this leap, though. Is having someone who is good in the role of assistant coach really worth $9.1 million and a spot in the starting lineup?
It’s easy to pick on Perkins and Sefolosha because they make it easy to do so with their almost complete lack of production.
One of the criticisms of the Thunder, particularly in the playoffs as they struggled to get past Memphis and were eventually overwhelmed by San Antonio, is that their offense consists of getting the ball to Durant and Westbrook and basically telling them, “OK, do something.”
Teams don’t have to guard Perkins. They don’t have to guard Sefolosha. Even giving Serge Ibaka the credit he is due for turning into a very good partner on either the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop, by my third-grade mathematics skills, that still leaves the Thunder playing 3-on-5.
It’s really hard to envision a scenario in which Sefolosha is back. But Perkins will remain.
And Jackson wants a bigger role.
“I’d like to be a starter,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to lie.”
But Brooks and Westbrook weren’t so sure, even after Jackson got a taste of starting with both Durant and Westbrook for the final four games against San Antonio, in which the Thunder went 2-2.
“Don’t know,” Brooks said of the idea of entering next season with a Jackson-Westbrook duo.” It’s so early.”
“I’m not sure, man,” Westbrook said. “Obviously we made those changes based on the series and based on different things throughout the playoffs. That’s something I’m not sure about.”
Translation: I don’t want anyone else on the floor with me that actually, you know, wants to touch the basketball … like, ever.
The offseason may prove otherwise, but it sure sounds as if Sam Presti is content to go with the status quo for another season.
Even if that status quo has added up to one Finals loss, two conference finals losses, one conference semifinals loss and a superstar given away for 25 cents on the dollar.