Sports

GARY WASHBURN I SUNDAY BASKETBALL NOTES

Ex-Celtic Kendrick Perkins has shot at title with Cavaliers

Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler tried to drive past Cleveland Cavaliers center Kendrick Perkins.
Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports
Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler tried to drive past Cleveland Cavaliers center Kendrick Perkins.

It’s been five years since Kendrick Perkins suffered a devastating torn right anterior cruciate ligament in Game 6 of the NBA Finals for the Celtics. That injury perhaps prevented a second championship for the Celtics’ Big Three. Perkins, meanwhile, has never been the same player.

He said the injury required two years from which to recover. He has spent the past few years as a reserve center, landing in Cleveland a few months ago after the Thunder moved him to Utah, which waived him.

As the Cavaliers clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference finals last week, Perkins reflected on another opportunity at a championship and his uncertain future. Perkins, who plays sparingly for the Cavaliers and is more of a locker room presence, will be a free agent at season’s end.

Advertisement

He is trying to appreciate the moment. Perkins understands that he came into a ready-made contender’s situation with Cleveland, offering him more opportunity for mentoring than on-court contributions. He’s played 24 total minutes in six of Cleveland’s 10 playoff games, but he is unconcerned with playing time.

Get Sports Headlines in your inbox:
The most recent sports headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“When you’ve got a chance to go win a title and you keep getting steps closer and the sky is the limit, it’s always important that you keep the right mind-set,” he said. “Make sure you are all in for the team. I came to the team late, the team was already established. I just wanted to come and do what I needed to do and help teach the bigs. I’m not worried man, coming into the team, taking nobody’s minutes. They were already rolling. I’ll be all right in the future. I’ll get me a job somewhere. Come off the bench and get 20 minutes a game. I haven’t really thought about it.”

When Perkins was waived by the Jazz, a handful of teams made offers, including the Clippers. But Perkins cited a long relationship with LeBron James dating to their AAU days as his reason for choosing Cleveland.

“It’s great to be around winners, you get a chance to showcase what you need to do,” Perkins said. “They go out there and win and we keep getting a chance [to compete]. We’re eight wins away [from a title] and you have to make sure you stay hungry. Don’t get satisfied. Don’t get happy and keep building.”

Perkins made headlines last week when he was involved in a roadside verbal altercation with his wife, Vanity, in Ohio as they were pulled over. A bystander called 911 and said there was a physical altercation, which both Perkins and his wife denied. There were no charges filed.

Advertisement

“You know, things happen, especially when it comes down to me, and it was nothing,” he said. “People are going to be nosy . . . It was nothing serious at all. We handled it well. Nothing happened. It’s good.”

Perkins is one of the few players who has talked with RajonRondo since his incident in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals and abrupt ending with the Mavericks. He said Rondo, one his best friends from their Celtics days, was in good spirits.

Rondo clashed with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle over play-calling and Rondo’s on-court decisions.

“He’s doing good, his mind is right,” Perkins said. “One thing about Rajon, he still can play. It just takes one team out there that has interest in him. What you’ve got to know about Rajon is that he’s a guy who is smart. You’ve got to let him go out there and control the game. He wants to call the plays.”

Rondo is a free agent this summer, and there are growing questions whether he will get a lucrative contract after his issues with Carlisle.

Advertisement

“He may have pushed away some teams but some teams know what he’s capable of doing,” Perkins said.

ON THE WAY OUT

Thibodeau’s fate likely sealed after Bulls’ exit

Tannen Maury Corbis/EPA
Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

The crowd at the United Center was impatient, anticipating a Bulls’ second-half comeback in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Thursday night. After missing 13 of their first 14 shots of the second half, appearing lethargic and listless, exhausted from their intense battle with Cleveland, the Bulls relented.

The result was an embarrassing 94-73 loss that almost certainly marked the end of Tom Thibodeau’s coaching tenure in Chicago. The defensive-minded Thibodeau came to Chicago after a successful stint as Doc Rivers’s assistant with the Celtics, and he toughened the Bulls. But the organization has been besieged with injuries, especially to 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, and never made a serious run at a championship.

The Bulls could never get untracked offensively, and Thibodeau’s grating style was partially to blame for that. He worked his players hard. He believed in defensive-heavy big men who clogged the lane and rebounded, but as the NBA game expanded and floor-stretching became the norm, Thibodeau never changed his offense to accommodate 3-point shooting.

And he never blended well with the team’s upper management. He was angry that the team allowed top assistant Ron Adams to leave and join the Celtics, and Thibodeau never replaced him. And unless the Bulls reached the NBA Finals, it was apparent that this would likely be his last season in Chicago after constant rifts with general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson.

The Bulls need a fresh voice, an offensive visionary who can maximize the skills of Rose and JimmyButler with an entertaining style. And Thibodeau needs to go where he is appreciated, and where his defensive style is encouraged.

Of course, a primary reason the Bulls were denied deep title runs was the constant knee injuries to Rose, who missed nearly two full seasons and a chunk of this season after knee surgeries.

“I want to say this about Derrick,” Thibodeau said. “The good thing is, I think he’s regained his confidence. Obviously he had the surgery the second half of the season. I thought he played very aggressively. He hasn’t played in three postseasons, but overall the way he played in the last five games of the regular season and getting this experience, I think is really good for him. I think he’ll have a great year next year and he’ll feel really good about where he is.”

Thibodeau is still under contract and Bulls management won’t just fire him and allow him to walk to another job without compensation. They will want a Rivers-type deal that the Celtics engineered with the Clippers two years ago.

There are three current NBA head coach openings: Denver, Orlando, and New Orleans. Although it is uncertain how Thibodeau’s approach would fit with the younger players on the Magic, Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan wants a coach who stresses defense. Denver is rebuilding again and the organization has always encouraged more of an up-tempo philosophy. The best fit could be New Orleans, where Thibodeau could make the Pelicans an elite defensive team while a sharp assistant could upgrade the offense.

“Until they tell me I’m not, I expect to be here,” Thibodeau said of Chicago. “That’s the way I am going to approach it. I haven’t even thought about [other teams approaching me]. There was some good, some bad [about this season]. It’s not for me to judge. I’ll have my own things that I’ll look at in terms of where we are and things we need to accomplish.

“For the team to stick together the way they did, to play through what they did. Our starters played in 20 games together. It’s a credit to them, we were able to do what we did.”

Thibodeau is marketable and he won’t just take any NBA job. If the Bulls decide to remove him and pay him the final two years on his contract, he could easily take a year off and assess openings next summer. He performed well enough to do that, but he has become an increasingly poor fit in Chicago.

OUT OF THE SHADOW

Hunter wants to make a name for himself

Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter provided one of the more heartwarming stories in the NCAA Tournament by hitting the game-winning 3-pointer to beat higher-seeded Baylor in the second round. Coach Ron Hunter, his father, fell out of his sideline chair as he was recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon sustained while he was celebrating the Panthers’ Sun Belt Tournament title win.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Georgia State's R.J. Hunter.

R.J., a smooth-shooting swingman, has left school after his junior season and is a potential first-round pick and target of the Celtics. He said the constant question he addresses during pre-draft interviews regards the challenges and advantages of playing for his father.

“I would say the coach’s son thing [is the biggest misconception],” he said. “I don’t know why. Ray McCallum is having a good career. Doug McDermott is having a good career. We’re just considered spoiled. They think we go to college, we get these home-cooked meals. I went through all the trials with my teammates. I was with my teammates more than my family. I’m just ready to prove I’m not spoiled.”

Hunter wants to dispel any beliefs that playing for his father would make him less coachable in the NBA.

“Every team asks about that,” he said. “They ask how I work. They think there’s a correlation between work ethic and coach’s son because they think you’re given it all. I thought I earned a green light. I definitely had a green light [to shoot]. I thought my numbers proved that.

“We got into it sometimes, me and my dad. They thought I wasn’t coachable. If you ask any of my teammates or any of the faculty and staff, they see me in the gym late nights.”

Of course, Hunter will most be remembered for his 25-foot shot that beat Baylor, capping a furious rally when it appeared the Panthers would succumb.

“I think some people in the college basketball world kind of knew me, but that solidified me on that stage,” Hunter said. “I kind of knew I was leaving [for the NBA Draft] that whole season but that let me know my time was here and it was time to go.”

Asked about his father’s reaction to the shot, Hunter said: “He fell, right? If I would have missed the shot, he still would have fell. It wouldn’t have mattered. It went in and it kind of shocked him and I thought that was cool.”

ETC.

Players putting faith in union’s new leadership

There are more positive sentiments in the NBA Players Association with its new leadership, featuring executive director Michele Roberts. Players are more upbeat about the direction of the union entering potentially turbulent times with the expected opt-out of the current contract in 2017. Former NBA player Keyon Dooling, who was part of the executive committee during his final playing years and is now helping out with union business, said he is encouraged by the new direction.

“There’s a certain pedigree that you know you’re in good hands,” he said. “Transformational leadership is what I like to call it. This generation wants to be united because you can learn from some of the mistakes that we made during the last lockout.

“I hope this young generation really understands the importance of getting involved with the union, collective bargaining, and fighting hard to not only keep what we’ve earned but push it forward and continuing to grow as the game grows.”

The NBPA recently added four-time MVP LeBron James to its executive committee and the older players are preaching to younger ones to become more active in the business of the game. The question is whether the owners are going to demand more of the basketball-related income in the next collective bargaining talks, a proposal that would spark another lockout.

“We’ve gotten some new leadership and it’s diverse, there’s some young hunger and talented individuals who have been with the union for several years,” Dooling said. “It shouldn’t be any issue. The last CBA, [the owners] won by 40, if we were putting it in basketball terms. They won a lot to a little bit. Morale was damaged. The trust for organization and negotiating in good faith was tarnished because the sky was falling during the lockout. Organizational evaluations were going down. They weren’t selling tickets and all of these excuses about how the sky was falling. They can’t say that now because we know our teams are more valuable than ever. I don’t think the evolution of our players will go for that same struggle.”

Layups

While Paul Pierce has enjoyed his time with the Wizards and could continue to be part of their quest for an NBA Finals berth next season with a player option at $5.5 million, don’t be surprised if he considers opting out. Pierce underwent a resurgence during the postseason, averaging 14.6 points, shooting 48.5 percent from the field, and 52.4 percent from the 3-point line. He has boosted his stock this summer should he opt out. Despite telling the Washington Post immediately after the Wizards were eliminated that he is mulling retirement, Pierce, 37, has long maintained he wants to play until he is 40, and he could get a multiyear deal on the open market as either a starter or reliable bench scorer at likely a raise from his current salary. Pierce wanted a contract in the neighborhood of $10 million last summer before settling on a mid-level deal with Washington . . . The firing of Monty Williams in New Orleans came at a bizarre time, more than a week after the Pelicans were eliminated from the playoffs. General manager Dell Demps needs the organization to take a major step forward and there’s always been doubt as to whether Williams was the coach who could make the Pelicans a bona fide Western Conference contender. Demps is also trying to secure his own job, and the team needs to make a splash with this next hire. The question is whether TomThibodeau would be New Orleans’s No. 1 candidate should he part ways with the Bulls. Someone who could have been seriously interested in the job, New Orleans native Avery Johnson, accepted the head coaching job at the University of Alabama. Meanwhile, ownership is considering bringing on Louisiana native and former Pistons president Joe Dumars for a consultant’s role. The Pelicans also will offer emerging star Anthony Davis a multiyear extension. The question is whether he will make a three- or five-year commitment . . . The Lakers will find out at Tuesday’s draft lottery whether their plan to improve is boosted by a top-five pick. If Los Angeles finishes outside the top five, its pick goes to the 76ers. But the Lakers have an 83 percent chance of netting one of the first five picks, meaning they likely will add a premium player to a group that includes Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, promising point guard Jordan Clarkson, and possibly a big-name free agent given their salary cap space. The Lakers have to make a decision on the $9 million salary of JordanHill this summer, and may try to move Nick Young and the final three years of his contract.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.