For loyal fans of the Phoenix Suns, their closest link to the 2012 Western Conference finals is the in-game analysis Steve Kerr provides for TNT.
The former Suns general manager, who usually provides solid tactical explanations, knows both of this year's combatants extremely well. Kerr's hired-gun tour of NBA glory included reserve duty for the Spurs in San Antonio, where current Oklahoma City Thunder vice presidentGM Sam Presti cut his talent-evaluation teeth.
During Sunday's broadcast of Game 1 between the Thunder and Spurs, Kerr accurately credited Presti with making a few prudent draft-night decisions in building a budding powerhouse. TNT even provided a handy graphic element. Presti was pretty fortunate that Kevin Durant was still on the board when the then-Seattle SuperSonics had the second pick in the 2007 party, but his choices since then have been fairly inspired.
It's truly unfortunate, especially for Suns fans, that Kerr didn't provide Phoenix with the same level of sage selecting. Kerr wasn't around all that long, but the damage he and his personnel team did -- not to mention the garage-sale approach that owner Robert Sarver used during preceding drafts -- continues to haunt the Suns on the floor.
Although the current regime is on record as considering bringing back Robin Lopez, Kerr certainly could have done better than the lesser 7-footer from Stanford with the 15th pick in 2008. Still available when Phoenix selected were Nic Batum, Ryan Anderson, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, JaVale McGee and Presti selection Serge Ibaka.
The following year, Kerr and the Suns went with the marvelous Earl Clark at 14, passing on Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Darren Collison and post defender Taj Gibson.
To be fair in this fish-in-a-barrel use of hindsight, there's no guarantee that any of the aforementioned players would have done as well in a Suns uniform. The Suns, you may have noticed, really don't seem that committed to player development.
By the way, this year's draft lottery will occur Wednesday night. The Suns are 13th on the odds-to-win list, with a 0.7 percent chance to land Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. Under the present system, the Chicago Bulls pulled the biggest upset in winning the Derrick Rose draft of 2008, when they were ninth with a 1.7 percent opportunity.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR LAKERS?
We're not sure what Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown can do for his team next season, but he did provide a timely strategy deficit during their recent conference-semifinal loss to the Thunder.
"That's why, if I'm the Lakers, I'd think twice before gutting the roster," an assistant coach employed by another Western Conference franchise said. "While I do think Oklahoma City's better, younger, more athletic and so on, the Lakers might have actually won that series with a better plan in the fourth quarter of most of those games.
"The players definitely failed to make plays, and Kobe (Bryant) should be singled out for going rogue in the offense. He's done that for years, and maybe he was too tired to keep going to the basket, but it really killed them against Oklahoma City. But the worst of it is the adjustments, or lack of them, made by the coaching staff."
How about an example?
"Well, OKC would wait until deep in the second half before having (center Kendrick) Perkins front (semi-comatose center Andrew) Bynum on the block. Now, Bynum deserves some blame from not working hard enough to keep his top foot above Perkins, but the Lakers did nothing to exploit the fronting. They easily could have emptied the space behind Bynum by lifting (semi-soft power forward Pau) Gasol to the free-throw line or running a weak-side stagger for Kobe to occupy the help defense."
Not so much, huh?
"They (the Lakers) kept the lane congested, and there was no opportunity to throw the lob over Perkins. Heck, someone could have just shot a jumper and Bynum would have had inside rebounding position."
With the number of jumpers missed by Bryant in several fourth quarters, that should have been a breeze.
THE PERKINS PROBLEM
The same assistant said Perkins looms as a tremendous liability against the Spurs.
"He's one of the worst bigs in the league as far as getting out and defending screen-roll," the coach said. "You saw it in Game 1. Scotty (Thunder coach Brooks) has a dilemma there, because when Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) goes small, (Thunder forward Serge) Ibaka would have to guard someone on the perimeter, and that takes the league's best shot-blocker away from the rim. That puts Perkins in screen-roll with Duncan, and Perkins is terrible at getting out there and taking the proper angle to at least slow down either (Tony) Parker or (Manu) Ginobili until his teammates can recover to them. He just left Ginobili one time before the guy guarding him had gotten over the screen. Just left him. Unbelievable."
But the solution isn't as simple as directing Perkins to the bench and going small, with Ibaka as the lone OKC big man on the floor.
"Ibaka is hardly great at screen-roll defense himself," the assistant said. "And when that happens, he has Duncan on the post, and Duncan would wear him out."
These defensive issues won't seem as alarming if the OKC big three -- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden -- can improve upon their combined 22-of-57 Game 1 marksmanship.