Phil Jackson, the L.A. Lakers coach with the uncontrollable tongue, came through town three weeks ago and questioned Kendrick Perkins' leadership.
Three days prior, the Oklahoma City Thunder had acquired the 6-foot-10 center in a four-player trade with Boston. Jackson wasn't as impressed with the deal for Oklahoma City as many throughout the NBA were.
“Kendrick's a pretty young guy,” Jackson started. “I don't know how much experience he has if (Kevin) Garnett's not talking in his ear and sending him where to go. I think he's got the notion. But whether he can be a leader and lead (the Thunder), that's another story.”
Perkins is on record of not being a member of the Jackson fan club. An ESPN reporter recently quoted Perkins as saying the coach is arrogant. And Perkins didn't hesitate to dismiss Jackson's latest comments.
“I don't listen to Phil anyway,” Perkins said. “Everything he says ain't what's right. At the end of the day, I learned a lot where I came from. I'm just trying to install it here and just keep pushing.”
Jackson hasn't been the only person to question how effective Perkins would be without Garnett. But judging by his first four games in a Thunder uniform, Perkins hasn't had any problems providing leadership. Perkins' imprint has been present since he debuted in a 27-point win at Washington last Monday.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks saw it long before then.
“I've seen it from the first day that he was on our bench in a suit talking to the guys when he wasn't playing,” Brooks said. “That's important. You just don't want to be a communicator when things are going well. And he had just got traded and was trying to figure out ways to help us improve.”
Whenever the Thunder has had a defensive lapse, it's been Perkins who has held players accountable now that he's on the court. We've seen more examples of that from Perkins in four games than the Thunder showed in 60-plus games before Perkins joining the lineup.
When Perkins and Serge Ibaka had a miscommunication at Miami, allowing a Heat player to score with ease in transition, Perkins put everything on pause and ironed out the problem before inbounding the ball. When Charlotte guard D.J. Augustin blew by Russell Westbrook on Friday, Perkins got in Westbrook's face and delivered a few choice words to the All-Star point guard.
“We have a rule, no layups,” Perkins said. “I come from a system (in Boston) where everybody must look themselves in the mirror. There's no pointing the finger.
“Everything is not going to be perfect. But at the end of the day I feel like you can talk your way out of things on the court. So as long as you can communicate and play hard, I think you can cover up for each other's mistakes.”
Perkins only wants to talk on the court. In the locker room, he's kept quiet.
“I talk to K.G. a lot. One thing he told me is just lead by example,” Perkins said. “I try to come out and communicate and try to talk guys through things. I try to do less talking but more action.”
Perkins said it will be critical for him and Ibaka to get on the same page. The two, Perkins said, need to be in sync so much that they anchor the defense. They've got 13 games left to figure it out.
“One thing I learned about being a good defensive team is that your two big men got to be on the same page at all times,” Perkins said. “That means guarding pick and rolls and having each other backs.
“I want him to know at all ties he can trust me. If he takes my man, I'm going to take his. I'm going to have his back 110 percent. I think when you have two big men that can guard the pick-and-roll or lock up the paint, that's what makes a good defensive team.”