Sam Presti sat Kendrick Perkins down for his exit interview on Thursday and showed the center clips of his old self before he busted up both of his knees.
The footage was incredible.
Perkins saw himself running the floor, catching passes on the move and finishing plays with power, patrolling the paint and swatting shots mercilessly.
Presti, the team's general manager, was sending a simple message.
“He just told me that we're going to get you back to that point and even better,” Perkins said.
That's become the main offseason goal for Perkins, the Thunder's 6-foot-10 center who became a polarizing player in Oklahoma City following the mid-season trade that shipped Jeff Green to Boston. Some fans have called Perkins a bust. During the playoffs, national television analysts even called the deal a mistake by the Thunder.
Many forgot Perkins was far from 100 percent. He tore the ACL in his right knee in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals last June but returned to basketball on Jan. 25, ahead of schedule. Perkins then sprained his left knee on Feb. 22 and missed another three weeks.
When the Thunder acquired Perkins two days later, then gave him a four-year, $34.8 million extension four days after that, expectations shot through the roof. And Perkins, at times, let plenty down.
“We knew at the time we made the trade that he was not going to be 100 percent,” Presti said. “But he was on pace, and he's done all the work. I think a summer is really going to help him.”
Perkins didn't hesitate to label his performance this season a disappointment.
“I'd probably give myself a D, just because I know what I was capable of doing,” Perkins said when asked to evaluate his season.
Perkins averaged 5.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 25.2 minutes in 17 regular season with the Thunder, pretty decent production from a guy who isn't a stat stuffer. In the playoffs, those figures dipped to 4.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 0.8 blocks despite logging three more minutes per night.
But Perkins' erratic effectiveness was more significant than any statistical measure.
He lumbered on the court. He missed assignments. He no longer could finish plays with rim-rocking dunks offensively or rescue his teammates with rejections defensively.
Perkins knew it, too.
He stared back at reporters last Thursday and candidly rattled off a list of skills he struggled to supply.
After ranking in the top 10 in blocks the last two seasons, Perkins averaged less than one block for the first time since the 2004-05 season, his second year in the league. After ranking in the top 10 in dunks the last two seasons, Perkins had just five slams this season. And after converting at least 57 percent of his shots over the last three seasons, Perkins' accuracy fell to 51.5percent this season, just 49.3 percent while with the Thunder.
“It was times that I wanted to break down in the playoffs because things that I was capable of doing in the past without my injuries I couldn't do,” Perkins said. “But I was trying to give it my all.”
Perkins never cracked. He always held it together.
“Mentally, I'll probably give myself an A,” Perkins said. “I came in and gave guys confidence, let guys know that it's possible and that we are an elite team in this league and that we are capable of winning a title.”
How'd he do it?
“You just got to be a man about it. You just got to man up,” Perkins said. “I have too much pride to show any sign of weakness. I know a lot of young guys look up to me, so how could their big brother break down in front of them at any point in time? How would they react?”
Not that Perkins cares about critics, but the road to silencing them starts this summer. Perkins wants to show up for training camp at 265 pounds, 20 pounds lighter than he is now. He's hired a nutritionist and is planning to get to work right away, spending most of his time working out in Houston with former coach John Lucas II.
In the back of Perkins' mind is something former teammate and forever mentor Kevin Garnett once told him. It's what will fuel the Thunder's big man during these summer months.
“He said you'll see who really got love for the game once they get their money,” Perkins said. “It's certain guys that get paid and they just stop working. I'm not going to be one of those guys.”