Despite his athletic limitations, Kendrick Perkins knows the identity and strength of his Thunder team – a mobile juggernaut that can overwhelm with quickness, length and explosion.
But as a guy who has survived in this league because of brute strength and an underrated knowledge of the game, Perkins also knows its weakness.
“The biggest thing with our team is our mental,” Perkins said, bluntly, in his exit interview. “In my opinion, we have more than enough talent to win a championship this year. I thought we just fell short because of the mental things that we did wrong.”
It’s the minor, everyday details of the game that Perkins sees occasionally, but not consistently enough from the Thunder. The commitment to defense. The trust in teammates. The focus on every possession.
“That just comes from extra studying the game, watching film, going (to) get knowledge from other people,” Perkins said.
One area in specific he identified was turnovers. This season, the Thunder committed the fifth most per game (14.8) in the NBA. During the postseason, OKC committed the third most (15.1) out of 16 eligible teams, while Miami (10.9) and San Antonio (12.2) committed the least and fourth least.
“We gotta do a better job of valuing the ball,” Perkins said. “(In Game 6), turnovers cost us the game. I thought our defense, we got more than enough stops...We came down and had wasted offensive possessions.
“I mean turnovers that wasn’t even really forced. Just careless turnovers against San Antonio...Can’t beat a team in the Western Conference Finals like that.”
And that’s Perkins’ overall point. With the stockpiled talent and pure shot-making ability, the Thunder is capable of rattling off 55-plus wins on a consistent basis, annually advancing deep into the playoffs.
But that final hump, the conquering of championship level teams like the Spurs and Heat, will only come, Perkins says, if the Thunder adopts a similar kind of unselfish style and unwavering commitment to winning above all else.
“You could see Udonis Haslem starting one day, Shane Battier starting the next, and they don’t care,” Perkins said of the Heat. “I mean, they’ve got a team full of vets willing to sacrifice. They just make the right basketball play. They do it all year long. They don’t have a problem. Their ultimate goal is winning.”
And San Antonio?
“The Spurs, they weren’t more athletic than us, they weren’t more talented than us,” Perkins said. “But they outsmarted us, and they won the series off of that.”
Agenda-free basketball is what Perkins has termed it. Putting aside personal goals for the better of the team, with an understanding that the individual shine will come after the wins.
“You do all the right things to try to get the bigger goals,” Perkins said. “Then making the All-Star Game and doing everything else going to fall into place.”
Perkins called for Russell Westbrook to play more consistent defense, to stop gambling as much, for Kevin Durant to get stronger and build a sturdier base, like some of the all-time greats did over time.
But most of all, he called for a team-wide championship mentality from Day 1 of training camp.
“That’s learning how to play the right way for 82 games and not try to turn on the switch in the playoffs,” Perkins said. “I think what you do in January is based on how you play in April, May and June. You gotta develop that trust early. The two teams in the Finals right now, they play the same way all year long. They make the right basketball play every time down.”
The Thunder, in his estimation, don’t. At least not at this point.