26 Feb What Kendrick Perkins Means To The OKC Thunder
Kendrick Perkins brings championship DNA to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That statement comes from the book of King James, LeBron James that is.
When Kendrick Perkins was traded by the OKC Thunder to the Utah Jazz during last Thursday’s trade deadline, everybody knew that he was going to be waived. After he cleared the waivers, there was an invisible tug of war between contenders wanting to sign him for the rest of the season. In the end, Perkins chose to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, strengthening further the Cavs bench which is already now as deep as the Pacific Ocean. But why did Perkins choose the Cavs?
A History With the King
If you read the history of Kendrick Perkins, you’ll find out that he played alongside LeBron James for two summers in an AAU team called the Oakland Soldiers. Their history doesn’t end there. Perkins and James entered the NBA together via the 2003 NBA draft where James was the number one overall pick and Perkins the 27th pick. For more than a decade, Perkins and James played against each other both in the regular season and the playoffs. Their competition reached the highest level when LeBron’s Heat faced Perkins’ Thunder during the 2012 NBA Finals. King James and the Heat won that battle. James talked about playing against Perkins, via Cleveland.com on 2.24.15:
He’s a guy that you hate when you play against him and he’s a guy that you love when you play with him as a teammate. I played two summers with him when I was in high school on an AAU team with him, so I had a very, very good relationship with him from that point. But you always love his competitive spirit and what he brought to the game.
A Perk, Not an Insurance
James is past that “hate” part now, after Perkins signed with the Cavs, via espn.com on 2.24.15:
If Kendrick Perkins signs today with Cavs, his Cleveland salary will be $443.068 … with a salary-cap number of $279,975
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 23, 2015
In doing so, Perkins joins a Cavaliers’ frontline that included Timofrey Mozgov, Anderson Varejao (injured), Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love. But if you think that he’s just another part of a veteran trophy collection for the Cavs, Coach David Blatt has this to say, via espn.com on 2.24.15:
I don’t want to call Perk an insurance policy. He’s a guy that can really contribute. If you look at our team one of the areas that you would address if you were thinking, ‘OK how can we get a little better at this stage of the year,’ that’s one of the things you would put your finger on is the fact that we could use one more player with size and experience that can give us physicality and great defense and presence.
Blatt called him Perk so while he is not an insurance policy, he is a perk for the Cavaliers.
Will Lightning Strike Twice?
Perkins’s career averages are 5.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.1 asissts and 1.22 blocks per game. Those aren’t the numbers you expect from an acquisition that you might want to consider as a “perk”. Same thing goes with Perkins’ career Player Efficiency Rating of 11.0, which is below the universally accepted league average of 15.0. But those are not the numbers that make Kendrick Perkins a “perk” for the Cavs. These are: 135 playoff games, 1 NBA title in 2008 plus another NBA Finals’ appearance in 2012. Again, Perkins did not post big numbers during any of those games. But he was the starting center on both title contending teams.
When Perkins joined the Thunder at the trade deadline in 2011, the team had never won a playoff series. That season, they reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time since they were still the Seattle Supersonics in 1996. The following season, the Thunder made their first ever NBA Finals appearance against the Heat. They lost that series, but they established themselves as one of the league’s perennial contenders. With Perkins manning the middle, the Thunder won eight playoff series wins in four season. Before James returned to the Cavs and before they went on a veteran fishing expedition, the young Cleveland Cavaliers had zero playoff experience. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson have never played a single playoff game. Just as in 2011, Perkins moved to a playoff bound team at the trade deadline. Will lightning strike twice and lead the Cavaliers to a playoff run deep enough to reach the NBA finals?
Not Just Experience
According to newsok.com on 2.19.15:
Perk came from the Celtics, the only team he’d ever played for, and gave the Thunder a toughness that it never had before. He transformed the Thunder that season and every season since.
Playoff experience is one thing, toughness is another.
Let’s just go back to last season’s playoffs. The Thunder faced the Clippers in Round 1 and then the Grizzlies in Round 2. Those two teams have a murderers’ row for their frontline: DeAndre Jordan/Blake Griffin for the Clippers and Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol for the Grizzlies. The Thunder survived both teams primarily because of KD and Russ. But would they have survived the physicality without Perk?
The truth is the Thunder wouldn’t have been as good defensively (#5 in defensive efficiency in 2013-14) without Perkins, Serge Ibaka notwithstanding. While Ibaka pulls down the boards and swats those shots, it was Perkins who tangled and wrestled with the likes of Jordan, Griffin, Gasol and Randolph. Those don’t come up on stat sheets, but those took them away from their games.
More than The Numbers
Remember Kevin Durant’s nostalgic MVP speech?
The late-night calls after tough games, you texting me, telling me I’m the MVP, that means a lot to me, man.
Durant went on to say that Perkins was “one of the best teammates he’s ever had”.
As much as Perk meant to the Thunder defense, he was more valuable inside the locker room. He was a counselor to his peers and a big brother to his younger teammates. Durant’s speech is a proof of that.
Perkins’ game isn’t even what it was 12 years ago if it was something back then. At age 30, his defense is still good at #18 in ESPN’s defensive RPM among centers but it ends at just being good and nothing special. Offensively, he’s on a decline, shooting just .451 from the field since 2013 when his career average is .530. But he’s never been an offensive force anyway. And he doesn’t have to be one right now, not especially in Cleveland. That team is loaded with weapons that can last a World War 3. He doesn’t even have to impact the game every night, because his value to the Cavs begin even before they step inside the hard court. But it’s just as big and just what the doctors ordered for the Cavs.