In our column discussing Serge Ibaka’s potential from Monday, we didn’t even mention Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins’ possible production as he heads into his third full season with the team. It’s mostly because we’ve given up on the idea of Perkins as a contributor, the guy can certainly guard the low post well, but he hasn’t been the same since tearing his ACL in 2010 – far from the sort of no-stats defensive All-Star the Thunder were hoping for.
Perkins is trying to change this, re-dedicating himself to developing some semblance of an offensive game in a perimeter-based league that treats him like an anachronism for 90 percent of the year. Because there are so few dedicated low post centers that need guarding in this league, many have called for OKC coach Scott Brooks to dump Perk as a starter. Entering a crucial year, Perkins is giving the all-around game one more go.
Perkins himself admitted that he was displeased with his performance last season. And so he's dedicated this offseason to developing his skills and improving his game.
“I've been working, man,” Perkins said. “Been in the gym and basically just working more in the weight room on my explosiveness and touch around the basket, hook shots and stuff like that. I've been shooting a lot of jumpers, making sure I make 300 a night. I'm just trying to prepare.”
“One thing I learned, and I learned this from Kevin Garnett, is don't only read the good things about you,” Perkins said. “Read the negative things about you, too, and use it as motivation. I think that's when it comes to the point when you can be considered a real man, when you can look at both. Because most people will hide from criticism. I take it and I just kind of use it as motivation to get better … I'm ready to get back on the court.”
That’s probably a healthy approach, because there were plenty negative things floating around about Perkins following Oklahoma City’s second round ouster at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies. Russell Westbrook’s absence, and not Perkins’ limited play, was the reason the Thunder failed to defend their Western Conference crown last spring, but that didn’t stop both local and national outlets from railing against Perkins’ poor playoff – he posted the lowest Player Efficiency Rating of any postseason performer to log over 200 minutes in a playoff run.
Adding to the Thunder frustration is the refusal from the OKC front office to waive Perkins while using the amnesty clause. Such a move wouldn’t give the team any cap space, not with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Ibaka’s contracts taking up so much space, but it would net the team significant savings under the luxury tax level. Savings that would allow Oklahoma City to possibly make a deal for a contributor with the trade exception they earned in the Kevin Martin transaction with Minnesota.
The Thunder have the depth up front, in a league that is getting smaller and smaller even with Dwight Howard staying in the same conference, to handle such a move. A trio of Nick Collison, rookie Stephen Adams and Ibaka would more than hold serve, as even deep reserve Hasheem Thabeet looked like a better option than Perkins at times last year. Perkins has become a Jason Collins-like luxury, only needed to be brought out when someone like Howard comes to town; save for the fact that Collins doesn’t turn the ball over nearly as much as Perkins, and Collins never made the sort of dough (more than $18 million over the next two seasons) that Kendrick is due.
Perkins, whether he’s reading the daily papers or not, is no doubt aware of this, so this is why he’s coming out with the cheery mid-offseason pub right now, talking up his own improvement with Mayberry alongside that of youngsters Reggie Jackson and the hoped-for James Harden and Kevin Martin replacement, Jeremy Lamb.
Anything to chip away at that millstone image helps, I suppose.