Kendrick Perkins has an attitude problem. He knows it, and he'll never change. It's why he is who he is.
Behind that scowl is a shockingly smart basketball player. The Thunder center is about to start his 10th season, yet is still 27 years old. This truly makes him wise beyond his years.
This wisdom is delivered in a thick Texas drawl from a man who is Beaumont blunt. There's nothing but meat on the bone as he shares man-sized portions of knowledge.
“To me, it's all about trust,” Perkins said of manning the middle. “It's installed in me. If I'm going to be the anchor on the defensive end, I can't always just talk about it, I have to abide by it.”
Ask anybody what makes Perkins one of the league's premier post defenders and without fail they'll mention his attitude.
Thunder backup center Cole Aldrich, an aw-shucks 23-year-old from Minnesota missing one front tooth, admitted Perkins flat-out scares him sometimes.
What makes Perkins so good at the post?
“His knowledge,” Aldrich said. “He's played with a lot of good guys. He's been in the league 10 years and he's learned. He just knows the position and that's what makes him so good. You watch film of him and he really knows what he's doing.”
Aldrich flashed a gap-tooth smile as he said: “Then again, it could be 100-percent attitude, you never know.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said there is no mystery to what makes Perkins tick.
“It's all about attitude and toughness,” Brooks said. “If you don't have that in this league, you're going to get pushed around. You're not going to be able to perform and be able to stop players in this league. They're so skilled and talented, especially down low.”
Sweating profusely as usual after a practice, Perkins took a huge swig of water before proceeding to pontificate.
“Mostly it is attitude … and pride,” Perkins began. “Yeah, I do take it personal. Guarding people on the block, I take it real personal, especially when you're going against a guy known for getting a bucket at the 4 or 5 position. When I lock in, I don't care about nothing else that's going on.”
Perkins hears the constant rumblings about his modest stats. Some claim his career averages of 6.2 points and 6.2 rebounds make him expendable, particularly with the Thunder trying to sign Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to a contract extension.
Detractors claim OKC should simply exercise the amnesty clause available on Perkins, which would free up $17.6 million the next two seasons to re-sign Harden. What these folk fail to realize is the Thunder would then have a gaping hole in the middle and be in need of an attitude re-adjustment.
Would OKC have won last year's Western Conference title with Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green still on the roster? (That's a rhetorical question.) When general manager Sam Presti worked a trade with the Boston Celtics on Feb. 24, 2011, he got the tough-minded presence and intelligence the Thunder desperately needed to compete for an NBA title.
Perkins' value increased even more this offseason when center Dwight Howard was traded from Orlando to the Los Angeles Lakers, who promptly were projected to unseat the Thunder as Western Conference champs. After averaging just 13.1 points against Boston in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals, Howard said no one defends him as well as Perkins.
It was 8½ years ago when Celtics coach Doc Rivers began to mold Perkins, one year after Perkins had arrived as the 27th overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft straight out of Clifton J. Ozen High School in Beaumont.
Perkins knows who he is, and makes no apology.
“There's nothing wrong with being who you are,” Perkins said. “That's why I don't hang my head in the league as far as guarding guys on the block, or for trying to be the best at the pick-and-roll defense for bigs in the league, or trying to set good picks. It's about being who you are as a person and you just accept your role.
“People who really look at basketball and follow basketball know I bring it to the table. That's what I try to do every night. I try to be great at something on the court and bring that value that nobody else can bring.”
Perkins continues to hone his craft simply by being a basketball fan.
“When I go home, I'm still watching basketball,” Perkins said. “I'm watching NBA all the time. I'm watching different matchups. I'm watching (the Clippers') Blake Griffin against (Portland's) LaMarcus Aldridge, or (Minnesota's) Kevin Love against (Utah's) Al Jefferson. And when they come in to play us, I'm seeing what kind of numbers they've been getting. If they've been getting 30 (points) and 20 (rebounds), what they're about to get is a 12 and 12 night against me.
“You know what I mean? Seriously, that's how I approach it.”
Who would dare argue?
No greater challenge than Mavs' Nowitzki
Given all those classic confrontations against Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, which duel does Thunder center Kendrick Perkins cherish most?
Perhaps no one in the league consistently has defended these three behemoths better than the 6-foot-10, 260-pound Perkins.
So which player is Perkins' toughest test? Alas, none of the above.
To Perkins, there is no greater challenge than defending Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
The 7-foot, 245-pound Nowitzki is a matchup nightmare. The German can score anywhere from 0 to 30 feet. He'll lean into defenders, then fade away from them. He'll constantly get to the free-throw line and also can burn defenders shooting off the wrong foot.
Perkins shakes his head while describing all the ways Nowitzki can cause trouble.
“He's the guy they're setting pin-downs for and stuff like that,” Perkins said. “You've got to get low, lock and trail. He may come off or flop on you and that's a challenge. That's why I like going against him. He brings different types of stuff other than just paint-banging.”
Perkins is roughly 30 pounds lighter than when he arrived in a trade with the Boston Celtics on Feb. 24, 2011. A more agile Perkins has since extended his defense outside the paint-banging area.
“Challenging Bynum and Dwight is more in the paint. It's more ‘uh, uh, uh,' ” Perkins said, punctuating each “uh” with his shoulder. “With Dirk, you're fighting through screens. You're basically being a guard. That's the challenging part of it.”
Nowitzki often lures defenders out to uncharted territory.
Don't you sometimes feel a million miles away from the basket when defending Nowitzki?
“Yeah, you do,” Perkins said with a smile. “That's cool, though.”