HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The postseason got so gruesome for Kendrick Perkins that the friendliest fans in all of sports began to taunt him with the kind of menacing scowls the big man is known for directing at the enemy.
The Oklahoma City Thunder center seemingly couldn’t hold onto a pass. Rebounds slipped through his grasp. He didn’t defend as much as foul. He was slow to get put-backs up, and the bunnies he did more often than not hopped out. All this came to a frustrating head during the second-round loss to Memphis when the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder needed everything they could get from anyone not named Kevin Durant.
Perkins’ 11-game playoff slog would go down as historically ugly. He finished with a negative player efficiency rating (PER), something no other player who had logged 200 playoff minutes had ever done. He averaged 2.2 ppg and 3.7 rpg in 19.1 mpg. His 13 combined blocks and steals were 10 fewer than his 23 turnovers, which were one fewer than his 24 total points. His 41 total rebounds were two more than his 39 fouls. His four free throw attempts were six fewer than his 10 total field goals on 38 attempts.
“Perk is a veteran, he’s been through it all,” Durant said in Perkins’ defense at OKC’s Media Day. “He’s confident in himself. He knows just like any other player you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to get better. He’s come back and he’s worked his tail off this summer to get where he needs to be and I think he’s going to get there. I have confidence in him.”
While fans pushed for Thunder general manager Sam Presti to play the amnesty card that would cut ties with Perkins and his $18.1 million salary cap hit over the next two seasons, it was never a consideration for the front office. Largely untradeable because of his expensive contract, Perkins will be back in the starting lineup for his third consecutive season opener with the Thunder, expected again to set brick-wall screens, defend the rim, rebound and every so often stick one back.
Maybe it’s his southeast Texas roots, but the 6-foot-11, 280-pounder is as honest and forthright as pro athletes come, unafraid to call out a spade in his slow drawl, especially when the spade is him. Earlier in the summer he told the Daily Oklahoman that he was “embarrassed about the way I played.”
He followed up on that subject during the team’s Media Day.
“A long time ago KG [Kevin Garnett] told me that there’s nobody in the NBA or nobody in the world that don’t have flaws,” said Perkins, who underwent another arthroscopic right knee surgery during the summer, a minor clean-up as he called it. “So the thing is every offseason you try to clean up your flaws. I definitely went into the gym trying to work on getting my shot up quicker, worked on my touch around the basket. I spent a lot of time in the weight room as far as strengthening my legs and just all-around work. I didn’t take any short cuts around anything and I just addressed any situation.
“But,” Perkins continued, “the first step, you just got to be honest with yourself and look yourself in the mirror and just work on what you need to work on.”
Through two overseas preseason games, we haven’t seen much of Perkins, who only turns 29 next month even if it seems he must be going on 40. He dislocated a finger in Saturday’s opener at Istanbul, practically freaking out a Fenerbahce Ulker player who got a bit too close, and did not play Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers in England.
So what else is on Perkins’ mind as another championship-or-bust season cranks up? Here’s a glimpse:
Q: What is your early impression of 7-foot first-round draft pick Steven Adams?
A: Steven is a great addition. I think we probably got the steal of the draft in my opinion. A lot of people probably don’t know too much about him, but he can play. He’s very physical and the sky’s the limit.
Q: What did the team learn playing without Russell Westbrook?
A: We learned not to take people for granted. That’s the biggest thing that I learned, don’t take people for granted. You never know until they’re gone what you’re missing from certain individuals. I’m not just talking about Russell going on, scoring 30 points and dishing out 10 assists. I’m talking about the other little things he brings to the table. Russell gives our team swag. He gives me swag, I feed off of him. I know this at all times, if I’m on the court and I got a frown on my face, I know one other person for sure who’s got a frown on his face and that’s Russ. In the playoffs I couldn’t find him, I couldn’t find him. And you just don’t take people for granted. It’s not the big things, it’s the little things that matter.
Q: What is different about Durant coming into this season?
A: Every year he grows. We’re all watching Kevin growing into a man, he’s becoming a man. Not to say he wasn’t before, but he’s becoming his own man and Kevin wants to be the best. He wants to be the best player in the NBA. So I watch him, I watch him work, he could literally go play basketball for eight hours a day, every day, pick-up all day long. That’s what he wants to do. He wants to be the best player in the NBA.
Q: We mostly see only the humble side of Kevin Durant. Is he different in the locker room, behind the scenes?
A: He got to keep his humble image up. But behind the scenes sometimes you’ll see a different Kevin Durant a little bit. Sometimes he’ll turn it on and you know, but we embrace that. I actually love that. I told him sometimes it’s alright to be the bad guy in certain situations. So I think he’s balancing out the two. I think he’s learning how to turn it on for us when he’s getting more tenacity about himself. I could tell he’s a guy, he reads everything that y’all write about him, so he wants to see the good and he wants to see the bad. I know Kevin, man, he just wants to come out here and show the world who he is.