When Kendrick Perkins was acquired in 2011 from the Boston Celtics for Jeff Green, it was the first time I envisioned the Oklahoma City Thunder possibly becoming a championship contender. It was the toughness, the defense, that scowl, that physique, that goon mentality that was lacking on a green OKC roster. Big Perk was going to toughen these boys up.
The Thunder would make it all the way to the Western Finals in 2011 before eventually succumbing to eventual NBA champion the Dallas Mavericks. The following year, with a loaded roster and Perkins anchoring the defense, the Thunder were poised to make a title run. During the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, with the series looking like it could be in dire straits, Perkins, along with Serge Ibaka, put the team on their collective backs by playing lights-out basketball.
Let it be known that the Thunder don't beat that Spurs team without Kendrick Perkins. Perkins' defense on Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter was essential, and the fact that Perkins was able to just give a little more than usual on offense made all the difference in the world. OKC was going to the Finals.
Then Miami happened.
In an instant, the NBA landscape changed. The Heat, gunning for a championship, would unleash hell on OKC by playing a helter-skelter brand of ball that made Perkins seemingly obsolete. He had no one to guard, he was now made virtually useless offensively and folks immediately began to wonder how Perkins fit into the future of the franchise.
This scrutiny has been prevalent ever since the 2012 NBA Finals, so much so that Perkins feels like the punching bag for all jokes regarding the Thunder's chances to win a title.
"Why doesn't OKC amnesty Perk?"
"Can OKC trade Perkins?"
"The Thunder should start Steven Adams over Perkins."
"How in the world does Perkins make $9 million a year?"
Perkins is in a can't-win situation now. On one hand, Oklahoma City gave Perkins a four-year, $36 million extension thinking he'd marginally improve his production, play elite-level defense, rebound on the defensive end and be a leader and an enforcer. More often than not, he's always where he's supposed to be on the defensive end. That's what he's there to do.
Of course, those are the things most people overlook. What people pay attention to is when Perkins has the ball in his hand.
Watching Perkins try to score is like watching an obnoxious middle child in a trio of siblings (Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!*) do little things to get the attention of their parents. It's the semi-serious attempt to try to dribble and bring the ball up the court, the persistent desire to shoot mid-range jumpers to prove to us that he can actually shoot them, the reactions to the referees whenever a foul call goes against him. My mother would say "Stop acting so extra" when referencing Perkins. (She's a wise woman).
When Perkins does all that, it feels like he's trying too hard to prove his critics wrong. All of his teammates and coaches know how much he means to the Thunder. Just look at this quote from KD after Perkins hit that epic jumper in OKC's win over Portland on Tuesday:
"A lot of you guys don't know the small things he does for us. His intelligence on both ends of the floor and to hit a huge shot like that, especially a jump shot ... I heard a lot of people screaming ‘NO' as he shot it ... he just has so much confidence in himself and we have so much confidence in him. That was a huge shot. He played hard defense all game and to see him get rewarded with that is pretty special. I ride with Perk 'til the wheels fall off and I'm glad he hit that shot."
If the Thunder had a do-over, would they give Perkins that $36 million extension? Probably not. But Perkins still is an important member of the Thunder that does what's necessary, and we probably should look to place blame elsewhere -- **cough** Scott Brooks **cough** -- when it comes to how he's used.
The shaming of Perkins should end today. Despite his salary, despite his lack of offensive production, there are few better defensive centers and leaders than him. You know what the old folks say: Defense wins championships.
Besides, I want to see Kendrick Perkins dribble out the clock to win the NBA championship. Could be the best thing ever.
Happy Hour drink recommendation: Between The Sheets. If the old folks say defense wins championships, then it should also be noted that if you want play the game, then "YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!" Shoutout to Herm Edwards. Will this drink help you succeed in any way? Probably not. In fact, it will probably decrease your chances. But hey, drink this beverage, queue up some Isley Brothers and try to play to win the game tonight.