OKC Thunder: Team's reputation gets tougher with Kendrick Perkins' arrival, players' maturity

Before Kendrick Perkins arrived in Oklahoma City, the young team was viewed as soft. That perception has certainly changed.
BY JOHN ROHDE Published: May 2, 2012

During its first 2 1/2 seasons of existence, the Thunder was viewed as a "soft" team.

Then Kendrick Perkins arrived in a Feb. 24, 2011, trade with the Boston Celtics. OKC instantaneously became much less gooey and has solidified itself a little more each day since.

There is perhaps nothing more insulting to an athlete than to be called soft. Thunder players certainly didn't like being thought of as soft before Perkins arrived, and they don't like being reminded of it now.

"I never thought we were soft," point guard Russell Westbrook said. "I don't know where that came from. I never heard that, honestly. This is my first time hearing it, so I really don't have an answer for you."

Westbrook has a selective memory. Because if it weren't true, why trade for Perkins in the first place?

Perk's surly mojo is precisely what lured general manager Sam Presti to make the deal, which has been a huge success, given the Thunder's appearance in the Western Conference Finals last season and a 59-23 (.720) overall record with Perkins in the starting lineup.

Obtaining veteran center Nazr Mohammed from Charlotte that same day also hardened OKC's inner core with a championship presence, with Perkins and Mohammed having each won a world title.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said there is a much better word to describe the demeanor of his team in the early years.

"I wouldn't say we were soft," Brooks said. "We were young, and when you're young, you're still trying to learn about yourself, you're trying to learn about the league. You don't have time to focus on little things because you're trying to just survive. You're in survive mode.

"I don't think we were ever soft. I don't look at Kevin (Durant) as soft. I look back now at Kevin as just a young, 19-year-old. He was a young man. Now he's becoming a man and with maturity you get tougher and you get stronger. Your mental approach to the game has kind of matured."

OKC reserve forward Nick Collison, who has been with the Seattle/OKC franchise since he arrived as a rookie in 2003, didn't agree with the team's connotation as "soft."

"I don't know if we were soft before or if we're soft now," Collison said. "I think we've learned how to play physical and we've learned that's to our advantage. That again comes with experience, just going through something and you find a better way to do something."

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