HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With the trade deadline behind us now and the winners and losers being debated around the globe, we have a chance to sit back and survey the landscape here at the hideout.
Whatever certainty we had about a Lakers-Celtics rematch in the NBA Finals faded when the Celtics shipped off Kendrick Perkins, and even Nate Robinson, to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. In fact, the Celtics and all the other trade-happy teams have created a whole new world in the NBA for the rest of this season.
It dawned on us last night, as we were watching the Bulls’ comeback win over Miami (above). And as crazy as it might have sounded before the trade deadline, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think we could see a Bulls-Thunder NBA Finals this season (as opposed to 2013 or 2014). We’re not guaranteeing it or even predicting it. All we’re saying is it is within the realm of possibility.
Night after night, the Bulls are making it clear that they do not fear the Heat, Celtics or anyone else (you remember the way they handled the Spurs before the All-Star break).
Ask most anyone about the Bulls and Thunder before the trade deadline and they’d have told you that they were both poised to be the next teams in line to contend for titles, considering the way they’ve been built. But there’s no sense waiting in line or trying to be next when you can be right now.
And the moves that were made by some teams (and the moves that weren’t made by others) allows Chicago and OKC to challenge for the top spot sooner rather than later. That doesn’t mean the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Heat and Mavericks won’t be blocking the path. They will all still be there. The Bulls and Thunder just have a better chance of winning those battles than we thought a day ago.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell was in Denver last night and watched the shorthanded Celtics lose to the Nuggets. He nailed it when he described their current predicament this way:
Are the Celtics a better team without a player who made Dwight Howard sweat for every layup and rebound, a player whose knee injury in Game 6 might’ve swung the championship in the Celtics’ favor last summer?
“On paper, some will say we’re not,” (Celtics coach Doc) Rivers said. “I say we are, but that’s something we’ll have to find out.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, and Danny Ainge just took a tremendous risk in trading his starting center for someone who’ll be a backup forward. This deal makes them different, not necessarily better. Remember, given the twilight of their three-man core, they’re built to win now, more than next year, when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce will lose another precious layer of tread. They needed stability down low in the post, given the fragility of the aging O’Neals, Shaquille and Jermaine.
What they didn’t need was to panic and dump Perkins, partly because he wouldn’t sign a contract extension before the trade deadline. So what? This wasn’t the same situation Denver had with Carmelo Anthony, or what Utah had with Deron Williams; those were franchise players who absolutely had to be moved. Perkins was worth keeping around for another stretch run, regardless of what would happen contractually.
In a best-case scenario, which was very possible, Perkins would’ve been motivated to make good money and played accordingly in the postseason, gobbling up rebounds and swallowing up space in the paint. And then the new labor agreement, which will surely put limits on player contracts in terms of scope and length, could’ve fallen in Boston’s favor. Anyway, suppose Perkins wanted to play somewhere else next season? Fine. Just issue a sign-and-trade and get his replacement then. But not now. Not when you need him most.
While the Bulls stood their ground yesterday and didn’t tinker with their team or chemistry, the Thunder dove in head first. Thunder general manager Sam Presti, always a master on the biggest front office days of the year (Draft, free agency, trade deadline), worked his magic.
Not only did he fortify the frontline with Perkins and Nazr Mohammed (in a separate deal), he added a wild card in Nate Robinson.
The real gem, however, is Perkins. He’s tailor-made for the Thunder. A fierce competitor and one of the best low-post position defenders in basketball and an underrated shot blocker, he makes the Thunder a totally different outfit on defense. Losing Green is a blow, but when you have amassed as much young talent as the Thunder has in the past three seasons, you can’t keep them all.
Presti served up another lesson in the art of dealing that many of his peers and elders have forgotten about. You have to give up something good to get something good in return.
The Thunder did exactly that and that’s why we wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them dive deep into the playoffs this season, just like their mirror image in Chicago!