SLAM sits down with Kendrick Perkins.
“They still have not beaten our starting five. Our starting five against the Lakers starting five has a ring.” With that not so innocent statement, Doc Rivers upset a city of over 3.8 million, and paid tribute to the most undervalued and overlooked Boston Celtic: Kendrick Perkins.
With four stars demanding the spotlight in Boston, Perkins, the five-year starter, flies below the radar. Actually, he boxes out and hustles below the radar—the big doesn’t get enough hang time to fly. And all of that’s A-OK with the non-star from the Lone Star.
“Without the Big Three forming, we wouldn’t get the TV pub that you get, and everything else you get,” says Perk in his Texan twang. “So it’s kind of hard to say, ‘overshadowing.’ You’re really supposed to be kinda grateful to be in that situation.”
Yes, you read right. Not only is Perk not unhappy with the lack of media coverage he receives, Perk is “grateful” to even be playing on a team with Rajon Rondo and the Big Three.
That tells you pretty much all you need to know about the man on the mend from a torn ACL suffered during the NBA Finals.
Pretty much all. But not quite. Here’s the rest of what you need to know, courtesy of a column I keyed (aptly titled, “It Takes Five”) after Kendrick hurt his knee, and before the Celtics succumbed to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7.
Discussed more for his scowl than skills, the 6-10 Texan entered the League in 2003 stuffed fatter than a pig, with a skill set rawer than sushi. But after receiving a wake-up call in the form of 35 minutes his rookie season, Perkins set out to become an impact player.
Between his sophomore season and 2007-08, Perk worked with Clifford Ray on his post moves. At the same time, he applied himself in the weight room, bettering his conditioning and physique.
Once his effort and body caught up with his preexisting nasty edge, Kendrick Perkins showed he belonged in the NBA. With averages of 4.5 ppg and 5.2 rpg in a little over 20 minutes per contest, Perk had willed his way into becoming a serviceable big.
Then, in the summer of 2007 Kevin Garnett arrived via trade, and while the two didn’t form a twin tower tandem on par with Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon or Tim Duncan and David Robinson, they were the Celtics’ tower and trebuchet—the designated long-armed, elbow-throwing, big-mouthed, intimidating bodies.
Under the continued tutelage of Garnett and assistant coach Ray, Perks’ play improved across the board in the C’s Championship ’08 season—especially on defense, where he, along with Kev, anchored a complex scheme.
During that run to the trophy, Perkins played a major part in Boston’s Eastern Conference Championship defeat of the Detroit Pistons.
Still, overshadowed by KG on the inside and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the wings, the center remained an unknown—the NBA’s version of a concert’s opening act.
Over the past two seasons, Perk’s tightened his tougher than Teflon play a few notches, and his belt buckle an equal number. And though he’ll never be a great finisher or athlete, he’s developed into one of the best–and nastiest–post defenders in the League.
More than that, though, KP’s been the perfect complement to Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Perkins adds a level of toughness and possesses a blue collar attitude that nestles nicely with the somewhat softer play of the other four starters.
With all the adulation and attention young hoop phenoms receive, it’s rare to find an NBA player who lacks an ego. Kendrick Perkins is no exception; he just keeps it in check for the sake of the team–and that’s what makes him so valuable, so perfect, for what he does and where he plays.
With all the cameras and microphones pointed elsewhere, Perk doesn’t gripe, pout or seek out attention, he simply goes about his business, answering questions politely when asked, but otherwise remaining silent.
Late last week the seven-year pro and SLAM had a long overdue conversation. And I can now tell you, without a sliver of doubt, I agree with every word I wrote in June.
KP keeps it triller than trill.
Kendrick Perkins: Yeah. I try to make my rounds and hit all the local middle schools and talk to ‘em. I mean, before I have to move around and stuff like that.
SLAM: Yeah. The little kids there look up to you?
KP: All. Day. Long.
SLAM: What do you talk to them about?
KP: I really just talk about my life, and what it took for me to get there and stuff like that. And I just tell them, and break it down what they need to do to succeed in life and you know, the choices that they need to make and stuff like that. That’s about it. Then I do a question-and-answer and stuff like that. So that’s about it.
SLAM: That’s cool. So… Last we spoke was before Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
KP: Oh yeah. How you been?
SLAM: I’ve been good, man. How you feeling right now? How’s the rehab going?
KP: It’s going great, man. I’m going to rehab everyday. It’s getting a whole lot better. I’m walking without crutches and a brace, so things are moving along. I’m not rushing anything, but things are moving at a great pace.
SLAM: Is the rehab painful at all? Do you have to push yourself through it?
KP: It’s not as bad as everybody thinks. It’s difficult, obviously, but it’s not as bad as people think. If you mentally strong, you can get through it.
SLAM: The day after you Game 6—when you went down—it hurt you to talk about your injury. Do you think you’ll ever get over that? Having to miss Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
KP: Nah, I probably won’t get over it. But mentally I’m good, I’m just focusing on this season, and focusing on my rehab and getting back and getting back healthy. Other than that, I really haven’t been worrying about too much more other than just getting on the court and chasing this title.
SLAM: It took you a few years, but you’ve become a productive player in the League. Did you ever doubt that would happen?
KP: I don’t know. (Long Pause). It’s hard to say. The road has been up and down for me in the NBA, and now I’m coming into my own, [becoming] a name in the NBA, so I’m just trying to keep working. I’ve got plans on coming back better than I did before. I think I still can improve. You know, I still could play with a ball, and shoot a ball, and stuff like that. So you know, it’s all good. I’m just staying positive with it and taking it one day at a time.
SLAM: No doubt, that’s the only attitude to have.
KP: For real.
SLAM: What areas of your game do you still want to improve?
KP: Well, I still wanna get better with my footwork, my speed, my quickness, my athleticism. You know, I’m not an athlete or nothing like that, but you know obviously you wanna get better at weakness that you have, whatever they may be. So if you always got a right-hand hook, you wanna get a left-hand hook. You know, so I’m trying to work on my left hand, doing everything left-handing. Driving left-handed. Doing everything pretty much left handed, because I want it to get just as good as my right hand.
SLAM: The last couple of years you’ve had the opportunity to play with Kevin Garnett, a future Hall of Famer. Has he taught you a lot?
KP: He taught me too much. Seriously, man. He’s been great. He teaches how to be a man, and most of all he teaches to respect and love the game, and work hard. That’s the most that I get out of him—the love, passion and respect that he gives to the game of basketball is unbelievable.
SLAM: Do you think you’ve matured since you’ve been in the League? When you came in you were real young, and now you’re a savvy vet.
KP: Well I think I can get better. I try to get better each year. I think that’s what you gotta do in the NBA—get better each year. So I try to work on my game each year and improve, and just keep tryin’ to get better. I mean I feel like I’ve learned a lot, I still got a lot to learn, and I just try to keep picking up. With Shaq on the team, you pick up some things from him.
SLAM: When Tony Allen left the team, he said he kind of felt overshadowed by some of the other stars on the team. Do you ever feel that way?
KP: Nah. I feel like without them, we wouldn’t be in the position that we are in right now. Without the Big Three forming, we wouldn’t get the TV pub that you get, and everything else you get. So it’s kind of hard to say, “overshadowing.” You’re really supposed to be kinda grateful to be in that situation.
SLAM: But do you ever wish that you got more touches or more love?
KP: Nah, not really. That’s not how our chemistry is. You’ve been in our locker room, you know how we roll. There’s only one goal; so at times you want to get better as an individual, but then there’s times that you’ll be in situations you’ve never been in before. Like, there’s not too many times where you could be on a team that has a chance to win the title. So why not take advantage of it? I feel like stats are overrated, because stats—you could have an impact of the game and not have a huge number of stats. I feel like stats are overrated because—they just are.
SLAM: I agree with you, stats are overrated. But they also will get you paid, right? That’s what people look for come contract time.
KP: Nah, not really. I feel like they already know what they want and who they want, and they’re gonna pay who they want. Because certain people who got paid this summer ain’t have no huge stats and they got nice pay-days, you know what I’m saying?
SLAM: True. Everyone got paid this summer, right?
KP: That’s what I’m telling you. So the owners and general managers, they pretty much know two-three years ahead who they got plans on signing or what type of player they’re looking for. It ain’t really about the stats; it’s really about the position and if you can fit for a certain ballclub. That’s really what it’s all about. And to say you got overlooked a little bit—I ain’t trying to go against TA—but without them, people probably wouldn’t even know your name. We wouldn’t be on TV as much, or anything like that. So don’t take situations for granted. That’s why I say you should be grateful for every opportunity.
SLAM: Like you’ve said, I’ve been in the locker room, and sometimes it feels like you guys have little fights. You know Rondo gets upset with you for missing a pass; you get upset with Rondo for missing you on a look.
KP: It’s like that. But the thing is, we all got open minds. So we all willin’ to listen. And that’s one thing Doc that says: “Listen to your teammate. At the time it might not come out how you want it to come out, but listen.” And we got to be able to tell each other what we’re doing wrong. And I think that’s what makes our team different from everybody else. We keep our chemistry on the court. You wouldn’t know if we had an argument in the locker room or not—nobody would know. It wouldn’t show on the court in no kinda way.
SLAM: Talking about on the court, last year, aside from yourself, you guys had a lot of trouble rebounding. Why do you think that was?
KP: Man, to be honest, the crazy thing is that when you look back at the stats, we was like No. 2 in the League in defense—or No. 1, probably. But we were No. 2 in the League in “No Second Chance Points.” So we were giving up rebounds, but we wasn’t giving up nothing for it. So if they was to get offensive rebounds, we would play defense and get it right back. You see what I’m saying?
You gotta understand too, the rebounding was down—KG, he used to give at least 9 or 10 boards a game. But it was his first year dealing with knee surgery, and that bothered him throughout the year. You know Big Baby never was fully healthy throughout the year. Rasheed, he didn’t really come along until right when we needed him to at the end, [and] in the Playoffs. So it all kind of gelled at the right time. But the rebounding did come back to haunt us in Game 7.
SLAM: So you think it’ll be a little different this coming season?
KP: Well, I mean, we didn’t do nothing spectacular. We got Shaq, we got Delonte [West], we got J.O. [Jermaine O’Neal]. But it ain’t like we signed no young Dwight Howards or anything like that. So if anything we just got older. But we still got a lot of talent. So we got older but we got a lot of talent and a lot of experience, so that’s gonna help us a lot. And a lot of guys with chips on their shoulder, so that’s what’s gonna really help.
SLAM: What about you? When you come back, you gonna have a chip?
KP: I don’t have a choice. I don’t have a choice but to have a chip on my shoulder.
SLAM: Aside from the rebounding, at least from my perspective, it seemed always had trouble scoring in the fourth quarter. Why do you think that was?
KP: I don’t know man; I couldn’t tell you. There were different reasons for different games. Who knows? Maybe fatigue was a factor. You never know. You never know.
SLAM: It’s been a good couple years in Boston for you. Now your contract runs out soon. What are you thinking?
KP: Well, I’d love to be a Celtic for life, honestly. But, I know this is a business. So we’re gonna see how this year works out and just go from there. But I wouldn’t want to leave Boston; I love my situation. But we just gotta see and go from there, play this year out.
SLAM: I’m gonna see you on ESPN next summer, “I’ll be taking my talents to…”
KP: Nah, I don’t know man. (Laughs). You know that lockout’s coming. There’s gonna be a lockout.
SLAM: Yeah. Are the players nervous about that?
KP: I’m not nervous. I think the players are willing to all go in and fight. I don’t know, man. It’s gonna be a lockout. It could get crazy.
SLAM: You think the guys have the money put away that they need to have put away, though?
KP: I mean, I can’t count everybody’s pockets but I could just speak for myself.
SLAM: People are also always talking about—and this was a big thing in the playoffs—how you scowl on the court. I just wanted to note for the record: You smile a lot. Do you want to tell people why you don’t smile during games?
KP: Man, because, first of all, this is how I feed my family. This is my job. So every time I get on the court, it’s all business. And then, you got a psychopath like KG right on the side of you, so that’s just added fuel to the fire. (Laughs).
Off the court I’m the coolest person.
SLAM: Actually, I met Bun B a little bit back. He was saying you were cool.
KP: Yeah, Bun B. That’s my man.
SLAM: You and I were talking a little about this last year. Who do you think the toughest matchup in the League for you is?
KP: Oh, man. It’s got to be Yao Ming, because he’s so tall, big, strong and he can score, he can shoot, he got touch, and everything.
SLAM: How do you defend a dude like that?
KP: You can’t. You just got to hope he’s gonna miss. Try to weigh him down a little bit, that’s all basically you can do.
SLAM: What do you want most this coming June? Another shot at the Lakers?
KP: Man, it don’t even matter to me. I just want another shot at the ring, and to just go from there. It don’t matter if it’s the Lakers or whoever it may be. But we love the challenge, because we know there’s not an easy way to get to the Finals. But we want it.