I go way back with J.A. Sherman of the Thunder blog Welcome to Loud City, so it only made sense for us to do a Q&A prior to tonight's game. You can find my answers to his questions on WTLC. Here are my questions to him.
1) So, if you had to do it over and had the first pick in the draft, would you pick Durant or Oden? Seriously though, how different would your team look if Portland had picked Jordan, errr, Durant and you got Bowie, errr, Oden? (I've been struck by how important luck is, even to great teams/GMs)
You and I have both been following this NBA game for a long, long time, so we know that luck can be unmercifully cruel (Hi, Tim Duncan). Even worse, sometimes it seems like some franchises receive an inordinate amount of luck over time, such as when Shaq and Penny Hardaway were drafted in consecutive years by the Magic. The Thunder too fall into that category. Despite being relocated from Seattle to OKC under the most dubious ways, the Thunder were still able to draft four of their five current starters within the span of three years (Durant in '07, Westbrook in '08, and Harden & Ibaka in '09).
On the other side of the coin, you have teams like the Trail Blazers. Whether it was Jordan vs Bowie, Durant vs Oden, or the rash of injuries that have befallen that organization like with Brandon Roy, it just seems like bad luck seems to find that team. So if they had taken Durant over Oden, perhaps things might have turned out differently for both franchises, with Durant, Roy, and Aldridge forming a nucleus for the future in Portland and OKC ending up lost in the morass with a new fanbase wondering why their centerpiece in Oden never actually plays. Or...we might be discussing today the unbelievable bad luck of finding out that Portland star-to-be Kevin Durant is missing two toes and a knee and that Thunder big man Greg Oden is an actual Benjamin Button.
2) Boston fans still have an intense love for our old friend Kendrick Perkins. How has the OKC fanbase embraced him? How has he performed? How has the weight loss impacted his performance?
It appears that the local fan base has embraced Kendrick Perkins wholeheartedly. Both from a personality as well as a team-oriented standpoint, he has fit right into what the Thunder are trying to build. He works hard, does not complain, holds himself accountable, and has that dash of nastiness that lets everybody know that he'll always have his teammates' backs.
From an overall performance standpoint, I think that there has been a little bit of criticism towards him this season because, try as we might, we can't help ourselves and keep looking at his personal box scores. It is what we do and the age that we live in, and at a glance we can see that both his point production and his rebounding is down from a year ago, despite his better health. Fortunately for OKC, he himself has addressed these trends publicly and is working hard to tally more rebounds and blocks and on occasion, the behind the back pass.
In the greater context however, I think we're seeing that Perkins is more of a situational post player than anything else. He does extremely well against classic big men like Dwight Howard, Nene, and Al Jefferson. Where he struggles is against the more hybrid-type big men like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, big guys who depend more on their quickness or perimeter game than pure power. What I find most interesting is that if I had to guess, one of the main reasons the Thunder got Perkins was so that they could deal with the Lakers' twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. As we've seen, that sun is setting too, and what is left are the explosive big men like Blake Griffin. At least they'll still have Brendan Haywood to kick around.
3) Flipping your 3rd question back to you - how do you see the Eastern Conference shaping up?Do you think the Celtics have a chance against the beasts at the top of the standings?
The East, like the West, has a couple front-running teams, followed by everybody else. However, also like the West, there are still some glaring holes in both Chicago and Miami that leave them vulnerable. The question though is, can that vulnerability be exploited over the course of a seven game series? Yes, I could certainly see a young team like the Pacers or 76ers or a more veteran team like the Celtics or Hawks going into a series and beating either of those teams a couple of times. But four? That is where it gets challenging, and what makes NBA playoffs the most stratifying post-season process in pro sports. The two best teams from each conference will almost always make it to the Finals, and the best team will almost always win it all.
Where does that leave the Celtics? I hope that they work doggedly to get out of that 7 or 8 seed over the course of the next two months, because I just don't see them matching up well against the athleticism and defensive ability of either the Bulls or Heat. Unfortunately, it is going to be a climb because they are going to be chasing the Pacers and Hawks, who are eight and six games over .500, respectively. I don't know if they can get there.
What saddens me the most is that, of the games I've seen this season, the weak link appears to be Kevin Garnett, especially on the offensive end. When the Celtics lost to the Thunder earlier this season, you could see that he had very little offensive energy or precision. He would receive a pass or grab an offensive rebound five feet from the rim, and instead of the KG from yesteryear who would just power it back up, there were times when he wouldn't even look at the rim. Age creeps on everybody, but I just don't know how the Celtics can get by much longer with KG manning the middle. They're still great defensively, but I'm not sure a team can win in the post season averaging under 89 points per game.
But...I could be wrong. You've got some nice magical water up in Boston, right?
Good stuff as always from J.A.S.