Dwight Howard's chief rival over the years had little concern when he heard his old foe was changing teams and coming to the Western Conference.
“I just said it's time to go to work,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said about Howard joining the Lakers. “I knew the hype was going to be over there on that end and all that. But I'm glad the attention is off us because we're the type that likes to put our hard hats on and do stuff and keep it under the radar. And at the end of the day, when you look at the box score, Oklahoma won. That's the way we like to keep it.”
Not only is Perkins unfazed, but he also echoed several of his Thunder teammates who already have refuted the notion that the Lakers are now the team to beat in the West.
“We are the Western Conference champs,” Perkins said. “So at the end of the day, we're not chasing nobody except for the ring. We're chasing Miami to get a championship. It's no guarantee who is going to be where. But we earned the Western champs so we're not chasing the Lakers, we're chasing a championship and that's what it's about.”
Perkins and Howard developed a rivalry from their days battling in the East, Perkins with Boston and Howard with Orlando. The two played 24 times in the regular season and battled against one another in two playoff series. It was in those meetings that Perkins established a reputation for being the best low-post defender in basketball and the most capable center of slowing down Howard.
Now that Howard has joined Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash in L.A., Perkins figures to be more valuable than ever to the Thunder. It'll be Perkins' job to limit Howard this season, which could be vital if the Thunder has any plans on making a return trip to the NBA Finals.
“Yeah we've had our battles in the Eastern Conference but it's not too much of a big difference (with Howard in L.A.) because (Andrew) Bynum wasn't just a cakewalk by no means,” Perkins said. “We definitely got our hands full as a team but we're doing good.”
Perkins, undoubtedly the most vocal member of the Thunder, admitted that while the team prefers to fly under the radar it doesn't sit well with anyone in OKC that the Lakers are considered the team to beat. Kevin Durant, for example, might have concealed his true emotions when asked earlier this summer if he had any thoughts on the blockbuster trade and responded by saying: “Nah. I don't really care.”
Perkins is different.
“I'm a guy that will speak and tell you that I got a chip on my shoulder where KD might not tell you that he has one on his shoulder but he really do,” Perkins said. “Trust me, we're ready to get at it.”
After last year's heartbreaking Finals loss to Miami, the Thunder, Perkins said, is both more determined and better prepared to challenge for the championship this year.
“Now, we know what to expect,” Perkins said. “So it's less talking and more playing on my end. We know what to expect and we know what it takes. We know that it takes the little things and we'll be ready.”
Perkins points to the recent signings of coach Scott Brooks and Serge Ibaka, as well as the recovery of Eric Maynor from injury, as positives that took place for the Thunder this summer. Perkins says those developments will position the Thunder to be right back where it was last season — with or without his old nemesis now in Los Angeles.
“I don't like to brag and boast about what we got going on,” Perkins said. “But we'll see.”