January 10, 2020 was a momentous day for the OKC Thunder. The Thunder were playing the Houston Rockets for the first time this season in the Chesapeake Energy Arena. That game also served as the return of their star player for 11 years, Russell Westbrook.
Emotions were at an all-time high, which meant this was an opportunity for media to pounce.
Hype surrounding the return was all-over social media. The NBA did their part by posting various content on Russ while the Thunder prepared the customary tribute video. Of course, media outlets did not miss out, including ESPN.
Kendrick Perkins excitedly shared in all the hype. So excited in fact, that he tweeted out a headline of what was going to be talked about in his guesting on Sports Center.
It sounded like a harmless tweet; your typical media member (yes, Perk is a media member now!) sharing what would be talked about for their show. But little did he know, that tweet would be the spark of the conversation everyone would be talking about that night.
After Perk tweeted that out, Celtics reporter Marc D’Amico replied with rebuke of Perk’s opinions:
Take note of this moving forward: “…he’s definitely not the best player to have ever put on a jersey for them.” That matters!
The player D’Amico was referring to: Kevin Durant. KD played for the Thunder for nine years, winning MVP in 2014 while winning multiple scoring titles and All-NBA awards in the process. He was the franchise player before he left, a title Westbrook immediately took once KD went on his next chapter.
Safe to say, Perkins understood who D’Amico was alluding to:
Perk wasn’t wrong! Of course when a player leaves a team, that leaves the door open for another player to take on the mantle as the best player to have ever played for your organization. Perk’s still on-point for this one.
D’Amico made sure to keep the conversation going:
Uh-oh. Here we go; the topic of postseason success in relation to player comparisons. This is usually where things start to get ugly.
Perk had a weird analogy to reply to D’Amico:
That’s a pretty weird argument for Perkins to give. D’Amico argued Russ did not even make it past the first round when KD wasn’t with him. Perkins responded that KD didn’t even make it past the second round when Westbrook didn’t play due to injury.
Doesn’t that exactly strengthen D’Amico’s point given the use of postseason success as a metric in relation to player comparisons?
Where was Perkins going here? With that reckless comment, Perk was the one that left the door open and KD was ready to walk right in.
Durant was wrong.
During the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals series between the OKC Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies, Kendrick Perkins actually averaged 2.4 points and 4.2 rebounds. Perk did not averaged two and three. He averaged “2 and 4.” Come on KD, you gotta give 2008 NBA champion Kendrick Perkins more credit than that!
But otherwise, KD brought it. In fact, a fan had an interesting reply in relation to this argument:
Did Durant have reason to lose sleep over Perkins’ averages that series? News flash: he absolutely did.
You have to understand; the 2012-2013 season was probably OKC’s best shot at winning an NBA championship. After losing their first Finals series as the Baby Thunder the previous year, many pundits had OKC winning it all despite trading away James Harden before the season even started. Those pundits looked like geniuses by the end of the regular season. They Thunder finished with the best record in the Western Conference at 60-22, with newly-minted sixth man Kevin Martin fitting right into Harden’s role.
However, Patrick Beverley happened. By crashing into Westbrook’s knee during the first round series between Oklahoma City and Houston, he had effectively ended Russ’ season.
The Thunder ended up winning the series against Houston in six games with Durant going supernova. Next on their schedule: the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were the modern-day rivals of the Thunder during that era.
Remember: that was the pre-small ball era, so big men were the thing then! OKC was set to go up against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, one of the best duos in the NBA during that time. Durant obviously couldn’t win this alone. He needed help, specifically from his big men to help stop the Grit ‘N Grind duo of Memphis. Enter the championship grit and heart of a champion of 2008 NBA Champion, Kendrick Perkins.
The result: the Thunder lost versus Memphis in five games. Durant’s 28-10-6 averages weren’t enough. Perkins’ grit and defense were nowhere to be found, as Gasol and Randolph combined to average 38-19 during the whole series. But hey, at least the champion in Perk averaged “2 and 4” instead of “2 and 3”, right?
Oh man, you know it’s gotten bad when someone uses the 3-1 card against KD. To make matters worse, Perk even double-replied to the same tweet. It’s understandable when a random Twitter trolls do these things, but a supposed NBA champion who brought grit and heart? Not exactly a very good look.
This beef was exactly what everyone knew what it was: a Twitter beef. It was a ridiculous, petty argument which shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Maybe if Perkins had focused on Westbrook instead of keeping his eyes on Durant, then this issue wouldn’t have blown up the way that it did.
But when talking about the past, it matters in a very weird way. It gives us fans added perspective to the demise of that young OKC Thunder core. The very fact that Perk had to attack KD in order to strengthen his argument for Russ just goes to show how that era of OKC is riddled with so much what ifs.
What if Russ hadn’t gotten injured during the 2013 First Round? Would OKC had won it all?
What if OKC hadn’t traded for Perk and had kept Jeff Green instead?
What if they ushered in small ball earlier with a death five of Ibaka-Durant-Green-Harden-Westbrook?
Such is the tragedy of the Thunder. An organization filled with mere ideas rather concrete memories to celebrate their run. That it in itself is telling of how we as fans perceive Russ, KD, and the teams they played with.
The what ifs will continue to rage on. The door was left open and the conversation will continue to walk right in.