Perkins Confident in New-Look Thunder
Entering this season, Kendrick Perkins wasn’t sure if the Oklahoma City Thunder would be the same hungry, fiery team that advanced to the NBA Finals last season. With so many young players on the roster, Perkins didn’t know how the team would respond after getting a taste of success. However, any concerns that Perkins had were erased the moment he arrived at the team’s practice facility.
“I was worried because there’s such a thing as having too much success at a young age,” Perkins told HOOPSWORLD. “I thought that maybe guys would start to get big heads, but guys are still humble and hungry. I watched the guys come in and work even harder than we normally do. That left a bad taste in our mouth, losing in the Finals last year. One thing about the guys on this team, we all want to win. We’re definitely trying to bring that trophy home to Oklahoma.”
Each year, the Thunder has advanced deeper and deeper into the postseason. Now, all that’s left for the team to do is hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, and anything less than that will be considered a disappointment.
Even though Oklahoma City has championship aspirations and represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals just five months ago, they haven’t been in the spotlight nearly as much as other contenders such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, but that’s fine with Perkins.
“We actually like getting overlooked,” Perkins said. “We don’t like to be on the radar or be the top dog. We’re a team that tries to stay out of the limelight, but that’s difficult because we’ve got some great players on our team. We like being overlooked and it does motivate us to keep going and keep winning games.”
Perkins won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008 so he knows what it takes to raise a banner. When asked to compare this year’s team to other teams that he’s played on, he puts this squad “right up there” and acknowledges their unlimited upside. However, Perkins admits that this group is still coming together and is very much a work in progress.
“On a scale of one to ten, I’d say we’re about an eight,” Perkins said of this year’s Thunder. “We have a lot of new guys and a lot of young guys so we’re just trying to build our chemistry one game at a time. The thing is we lost a lot of veteran guys. We have a lot of talented guys, but they’re not as experienced. We just have to make sure we follow the process and keep getting better.”
“We’re all growing together,” Perkins added. “We have to be a better defensive team all-around. We have to do a better job of cutting down on our turnovers. We have to do a better job of executing our offense. We have to get better at the little things like talking on defense, setting good screens, cutting even when you’re not getting the ball so that someone else gets an open shot. Those are the things that don’t show up in the box scores, but those are the things that help teams win championships. Those are the things that we’re striving to get better at.”
The biggest difference between this year’s team and the one that suited up for the Finals is the absence of James Harden, who was shipped to the Houston Rockets over the offseason in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and three draft picks. While Perkins admits that it was tough to see Harden go, he has been extremely impressed with Martin through the first 14 games of the season.
“James was our brother so it hurt to lose him, but we know that we got someone who’s capable of putting up 50 points in one night in Kevin,” Perkins said. “The thing that we didn’t know about Kevin is his tenacity – the way he takes ownership and plays defense. He’s a guy who is 29 years old, but he wants to get better. I think Kevin is making the most of this opportunity. He hasn’t really been on a winning ballclub in the last five or six years. He told us when he got here that he was tired of putting up numbers on teams that weren’t going anywhere. I think he’s more excited than all of us just to be here and just show the world that he’s going to take advantage of this opportunity. Kevin helps us a lot. He’s a guy who comes to work early and gets in the gym. If practice is at 11 a.m. then he’s there at 9 a.m. He’s always getting shots up or spending time in the weight room. He’s averaging 16 points off the bench right now so having him is just a plus all around.”
The continued development of 24-year-olds Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is one reason why the Thunder may be able to win a championship over the elite teams that overhauled their roster over the offseason. Even though Perkins has been around Durant and Westbrook for two years, he continues to be amazed by the duo on and off the court. When asked why Durant and Westbrook have been able to experience success so early in their careers, Perkins says “it’s the way they work” that puts them ahead of the curve.
“Kevin and Russell are two guys who don’t lead by talking, they lead by example,” Perkins explained. “You should see them. Every day in practice, they’re working harder than some of the rookies. That goes a long way when your two franchise players, your two captains, are being humble and working the way that they work. I’ve never seen that out of young guys in my life. They’re young, but they’re very hungry and it carries over to everyone else.”
Another reason to bet on the Thunder come June is their chemistry. Oklahoma City is often described as the closest team in the NBA and it’s hard to argue, even after the Harden trade brought in some new faces. Most teams spend time together on the road and then retreat to their families when they get home. However, the Thunder doesn’t have many players that have settled down since they’re one of the younger teams in the NBA. Oklahoma City’s players don’t go home to a wife and kids. Instead, they congregate at a teammate’s house to play video games or watch football whenever there’s down time.
“We have a group of young guys that love hanging around each other,” Perkins said. “We’ve built relationships off the court that carry over on the court. It’s like a family. We all got each other’s back and we all support each other at all times. On any night, it can be any guy’s night to have 20 points and we’re happy for the next man because we’re all close.”
Perkins couldn’t be happier on the Thunder. What’s not to the love? The team is extremely talented, close-knit and poised to contend for years to come. Perkins’ contract will keep in Oklahoma City through the 2014-15 season, but he hopes to stay even longer. He would love to finish his career with the Thunder.
“I love it here,” Perkins said. “It is a business so I have to make sure I do my job and we do our job, and that’s trying to win a couple of championships. Then, the rest will take care of itself. But yes, I would love to stay here and finish my career here.”
Perkins wants to win a couple of championships in Oklahoma City before all is said and done, starting with this season. Last postseason, the Thunder tasted success and entered this year hungrier than ever. Now, they’ll try to satisfy their craving in June.