Fellow Dime colleague, Dylan Murphy, is right. No one’s talking about Sam Presti picking Serge Ibaka over James Harden. And there are plenty of reasons behind the continued silence. The entire topic is a moot point. It’s clearly apparent to every basketball fan that James Harden should’ve been the choice for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sorry, Dylan and Mr. Presti.
While OKC represents the new NBA standard for how small markets should build a team, this decision could shatter their lofty standing. Instead of cementing their place as an offensive juggernaut and title contender for years to come, they were reactive. And, in effect, they took a step back due to their unacceptable shortsightedness.
The macro-perspective of this move is what should really take precedence.
The great executives possess the foresight to see where the league is going. The rest stay behind or just end up mimicking the latest trend like the music industry. With the stricter salary cap implications forthcoming, building a squad is a game of chess, not checkers. Each roster spot holds more value. So, a franchise has to carefully evaluate what players provide the greatest impact for their dollar — an individual that maximizes every opportunity on the court. For Presti to choose Ibaka over Harden, it’s un-Spurs-like.
Didn’t the Miami Heat and these Thunder just meet in The Finals in June? Aren’t 28 other teams suppose to scramble to copycat them during the offseason?
Although their respective methods to construct a championship finalist are polar opposites, the essence that comprise these rosters are the same: top-heavy elite, perimeter scoring weapons.
The days of dumping the rock down low and defending those seven-foot monsters are long gone. As the Heat and the Thunder, in particular, just proved, the key to foundational success are cats that can consistently penetrate, dish and shoot from deep. In the past, teams couldn’t have enough big men. Now they can’t have enough guards. With the way the rules favor guard play, it only benefits clubs to prominently feature them in their offense. And these rules ain’t going to change any time soon.
As presently constituted, the Heat and the Thunder are the present and future of hoops. Their unconventional new approach is what’s becoming conventional. They were set to embark on a Finals reign for the next decade unseen since the 1980s (Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers). Neither the Celtics nor the Lakers have reached the Finals in the last two seasons while the Heat and Thunder dominated with one ’ship in back-to-back trips and a conference finals and Finals appearance, respectively. Both teams supplanted the old school philosophy of having two giant frontcourt pillars.
An even more recent example of this shift was Team U.S.A. Basketball in London.
All the talk leading up and through the Olympic games was whether Team U.S.A. could handle dominant post play. Yet, a squad that only had one seven-footer, Tyson Chandler, and the Thunder’s big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden defeated those Gasol brothers and Ibaka by seven points in the gold medal game. The combined stat line for OKC’s trio was 35 points on 9-for-19 shooting, 10 boards and one dime while Spain’s read like this: 53 points on 19-for-32 shooting, 19 boards and nine assists. The numbers suggest Spain’s bigs had the upper hand. But they didn’t sustain this onslaught throughout the game. It just wasn’t enough.
The Finals and the Olympics demonstrated the importance of game-changing, multifaceted guards. Domestically or abroad, the venue of the game didn’t change this reality. The world saw the eradication of the widely-assumed notion that talented length and height is superior to any small-ball lineup.
Still, it’s difficult for most to acknowledge and accept the effect this development has on the larger picture.
“And now, especially in the Western Conference, the Thunder can’t expect to compete with the Los Angeles Lakers if they can’t hack it down low. Perkins and Ibaka, at least, can ensure that OKC doesn’t get eviscerated on the boards,” wrote Murphy.
The impact Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka will have against the Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard tandem is minimal compared to the kind Harden can have with Durant and Westbrook versus the Lakers. It would be one thing if Perkins and Ibaka were in the same class as Gasol and Howard, but they are not even close. You can make the case Gasol is the best power forward in the league and Howard is the best center. Where do Perkins and Ibaka rank in their respective positions? They’re not in the top five. The disparity is too hard to ignore and isn’t worth the money or trouble to keep.
As an individual, James Harden has also proven to be far more accomplished and valuable than Serge Ibaka, too.