During his exit interview Sunday morning, OKC Thunder coach Scott Brooks playfully was asked to name his starting lineup for the 2014-15 season opener, which was a polite way of asking him if it was time to turn the page on veteran center Kendrick Perkins.
“That remains to be seen,” Brooks said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done this summer. Obviously, he (Perkins has) been a big part of what we've done over the years. We have a good group of guys who all have to come back better, and I expect that to happen with all of our guys – Perk, Kevin, Russell – all the guys have come back better.”
Perkins has long been a topic of criticism since arriving in a trade that sent starters Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, cash and a 2012 first-round pick (Fab Melo) to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Perkins and Nate Robinson on Feb. 24, 2011.
In eight seasons with the Celtics, Perkins averaged 6.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and shot 56.3 percent from the field. In four seasons with the Thunder, he has averaged 4.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and shot 46.8 percent from the field.
Perkins’ hefty contract has been a point of contention. One week after the trade, Perkins agreed to a four-year, $32.56-million extension that included likely $500,000 incentives in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Because the deal was completed under the previous collective bargaining agreement, Perkins is eligible for the amnesty clause, which would allow the Thunder to pay what remains on the contract and eliminate his salary from the team’s annual payroll. Next month is the final opportunity for Thunder general manager Sam Presti to exercise this option. This is the final year of Perkins’ contract and the amnesty buyout would be $9.4 million.
The 29-year-old Perkins has been a starter since his arrival in OKC and starting centers are in high demand. The emergence of 20-year-old rookie center Steve Adams now gives the Thunder a viable option to replace Perkins in the lineup.
“Next season is going to be what it’s going to be," Perkins said of his competition against Adams, the No. 12 overall pick in last year's NBA Draft. "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 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.”
Shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha was inserted into the starting lineup in his second game after coming to OKC in a trade with the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 19, 2009, but he was benched for six postseason games.
Sefolosha’s four-year, $13.9-million extension expired after this season and he is not expected to re-sign with the Thunder. He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
With Sefolosha's anticipated departure and barring any notable offseason acquisitions at shooting guard, the Thunder’s 2014-15 starting lineup likely will consist of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Adams – all of whom would be age 26 and younger.
Jackson primarily has served as Westbrook’s backup at point guard and filled in admirably during Westbrook’s recovery from three surgical procedures on his right knee.
The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Jackson, who just finished his third season and will negotiate his rookie contract extension this summer, has proven himself to be OKC’s best finisher at the basket at any position with an ability to penetrate.
Jackson replaced Sefolosha and started alongside Westbrook for the final four games of the Western Conference final against the San Antonio Spurs.
“I have no clue,” Sefolosha said when asked to explain his benching after Game 2. “I’m going to have to take some time to think about a lot of things and see the options and take it from there. … It was very frustrating, very frustrating. It’s never easy. I would say the last month has been a little frustrating. I’m happy to see the team win, but obviously it’s definitely not the way we wanted to end the season. It’s just tough. You’ve got a lot of questions, like, why and what is the thought process necessarily behind it? Things like that. You just stick with the plan, stick with your teammates. But definitely it’s frustrating at times."
Brooks hesitated when asked if he envisioned starting two point guards next season.
“I hate to put myself in that position because who knows what will happen over the summer, but I know with Reggie he’s a very good player,” Brooks said. “He has the ability to play both positions (point guard and shooting guard), just like Russell does. They can play together. That’s been proven. Don’t know. It’s so early. We have a lot of basketball to be talked about. A lot of things that need to be worked on. Then we have a whole month of training camp. Who will fight for those positions? There’s obviously some positions are available. I can say that."
During his exit interview six hours after Brooks, Jackson admitted to being a “control freak” and wanting to start at point guard.
“I’d like to be a starter. I’m not going to lie,” Jackson said. “Everybody thinks point guard is kind of a quirky thing. People that like to run the show. That’s kind of our nature, feeling in control. I definitely enjoy that. … It’s tough (being sixth man). Like I said, I’m really a control freak so I like to be in control. That’s kind of how I am. I think that’s how point guards tend to be, quirky. I like to feel in control, a guy kind of running the show.”