Kendrick Perkins wants back in the NBA. He is not retired. He is not done.
The former Celtics big man has been working feverishly on his conditioning over the past several months and is looking for a training camp invite at age 32.
Perkins appeared in good shape when he stopped by the Las Vegas Summer League last week. He played in just 37 games for the Pelicans in 2015-16 before sitting out all of last season after teams showed little interest in his services. Perkins wasn’t pushing as hard for a return last summer, but that doesn’t mean he considers himself retired.
He hungers for a return, hoping to contribute as a backup center.
“The body feels good, man, I’m just sitting here waiting on an opportunity,” he said. “Hopefully I can get a training camp invite soon. I want to earn my way. I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. So I’ve been working hard, going two or three times a day, working and grinding. I’m just trying to stay with it.”
Perkins was a defensive stalwart during the Celtics’ two runs to the NBA Finals. Doc Rivers has always noted that Perkins tearing his ACL during Game 6 of the 2010 Finals completely changed the series. Perkins was traded to Oklahoma City just eight months after the Finals, and he was a serviceable center before being replaced in the lineup by Steven Adams.
He was then traded to the Jazz, waived, and signed by the Cavaliers, where he was on the roster for their 2015 NBA Finals run. Overall, Perkins’s production was slowing down. He said it took nearly two years to recover from the torn ACL.
Perkins wanted to play last season but couldn’t find a contract. And although the year off allowed him to heal and rest, Perkins said it didn’t help the perception. He felt overlooked.
“You’re sitting back, waiting on a job, you want in and not just sitting around the house. I wasn’t ready for that in that point in my life,” he said. “I think it was a very humbling situation for me. I thought it made me realize the importance and not to take it for granted.”
Centers like Perkins are becoming a rarity in the NBA. The league is dry of enforcers, dry of workmanlike centers who don’t stretch the floor or shoot pull-up 3-pointers. Yet the league is in desperate need of defenders, veteran leaders, and selfless players like Perkins.
Perkins understood that he needed to get back in top shape to have another chance. He has to be able to jump out on pick-and-rolls. He will have to drain an occasional midrange jumper. He has to get his game back.
Believe it or not, Perkins averaged 10.1 points in his final full season with the Celtics seven years ago. He never played outside of his limitations and was one of the league’s most effective centers.
“I’ve been keeping my weight down, making sure I’m getting all the cardio I need, staying in great shape,” he said. “I’m just going to do what I can. I feel good. I’ve been on top of my basketball work and I’m just waiting for my opportunity, it if happens. I’ve just changed my diet, working on my quickness, and just trying to get better. It’s 30 teams out there and I’m just looking for one opportunity. It will come. I’m just trying to leave it in God’s hands.”
BEST OF TIMES
Silver likes where league is headed
Commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t have many pressing issues to address regarding his soaring league. The league and players agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement that will keep labor peace for at least another six years.
The NBA news cycle has stretched to 12 months with the draft, free agency, summer leagues, and the schedule release. Meanwhile, the league’s stars are becoming increasingly more popular with lucrative endorsements.
But the question for Silver is whether owners are eventually going to condense salaries when they exceed the salary cap. Teams such as the Celtics are going to have to consider if they want to live in the luxury tax area to field a championship-caliber squad.
Silver was asked whether he was concerned about the increasing number of teams exceeding the cap and paying the luxury tax.
“I wouldn’t say concerned,” he said. “We designed the system in a certain way, which allows teams to go into the luxury tax. Obviously we don’t have a hard-cap system. I think one of the things we talked about at our owners’ meeting is the view of how is this agreement working already. Some of the new provisions kicked in on July 1 for free agents, and it’s something we’re always looking at.
“The system is designed so that you don’t have a lot of teams in the tax. The notion is on one hand, you want players to have more freedom. On the other hand, you want to create as much sort of equality of opportunity as you can among our teams. There’s always been this notion and part of the design of the current system was that it allows teams at a certain point to in essence go for it — to not break up their team because they see an opportunity, but then the tax has multipliers in it, so it creates further disincentives to stay in a tax.”
The biggest question is whether escalating salaries from the influx of television money will cause certain small-market owners to cease from spending for fear of paying the tax, which increases the more teams are over the tax and if they are in the tax in consecutive years.
“You know, these systems are so hard to calibrate. As the money has gotten bigger, it’s becoming harder to project future cap and tax levels. I think those are all things that we continue to look at,” Silver said. “I think our teams are smart. They find ways to compete. They work within the existing system but always with one eye on the next time we sit down at the bargaining table, and are there ways of making it even better. It’s too early to say concerned, but it’s something we always look at it. We have a system designed to try to keep teams out of the tax but with the recognition some teams will in essence go into the tax.”
Silver also stated what many had surmised — the NBA is not considering dropping conference affiliation for playoff seeding. Since the Western Conference is so strong, there have been suggestions that the playoff format accommodate the 16 best teams, regardless of conference.
Sounds like a great idea until you consider the increased travel and the need for a balanced schedule.
“We considered it fairly thoroughly about two years ago through a committee process and at the Board of Governors meeting, and ultimately we concluded that given all the focus on sports science, health of our players, impact of travel, it didn’t make sense, at least at this time, to move to a balanced schedule, because again, we play an imbalanced schedule,” Silver said. “Teams in the East obviously play each other more than teams in the West, and the notion is if you’re going to seed 1 through 16, the only fair way to do it is then have a balanced schedule throughout the season.
“So ultimately I don’t recall the precise calculations, but it resulted in significantly more travel for our teams, especially for those teams on the coast. The conclusion was that at least given the state of travel, the state of science on travel, we’re better off staying in the conference system the way we have it, and of course the same implications for the playoffs; the notion, again, of having teams crisscrossing the country in the first round didn’t seem to make sense to our teams.”
With several Eastern Conference standouts — Paul George, Paul Millsap, and Jimmy Butler — landing on Western Conference teams, the West could be as dominant as ever this season.
“I will say that even since two years ago when we looked at making the change and decided not to make it, there’s only one team that had a top-16 record that didn’t make the playoffs, and that was the Bulls two years ago,” Silver said. “So I think when you look at the actual numbers, it’s not as out of kilter as you might think it would be. But will we look at it again? I assume we will.
“I think for the league, I think many of us felt a 1-through-16 playoff made more sense. And maybe there’s also the potential — it’s in some ways a separate issue — should you reseed after every round as some leagues do? I think those are the things we’ll continue to look at, but it’s not at the top of the agenda right now.”
Young guns shine in summer games
Several rookies and free agents made strong impressions during the past two weeks in summer league, giving fans something to look forward to next season. Here’s an assessment of some of the top players at summer league from scouts and observers:
Lonzo Ball, Lakers — While Ball recorded two triple-doubles in the first three games, scouts are concerned mostly about his shooting. Although Ball’s court vision and passing ability are stellar, scouts believe he will struggle not because of his unusual form, but because of where he releases the ball — near his chest. Scouts noticed that he has an issue with midrange shots because it requires a faster release, and that Ball is weak at shooting following a righthanded dribble.
Ball is much more comfortable shooting after driving left. Scouts will suggest that defenses go under screens and allow Ball to shoot. He may need to adjust his shooting form.
De’Aaron Fox, Kings — Fox dazzled in Las Vegas with his speed and attacking of the basket. He will collect plenty of steals because of his quickness. The perception is that Fox will be helped greatly by veteran acquisition George Hill — they could play together in the same backcourt. The only concern about Fox is his inconsistent shooting, but that should eventually improve. The consensus here is that the Kings may have nabbed the best point guard in the draft.
Donovan Mitchell, Jazz — Utah has made significant changes since losing Gordon Hayward to the Celtics, and Mitchell may help ease the transition as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. He is tough, he defends, and he attacks the basket. He recorded 12 steals in two games in Las Vegas, and played strong defense against the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum in their Utah Summer League matchup.
Mitchell can play three positions. The Jazz may have gotten the steal of the draft by trading up to take Mitchell, who should get significant minutes right away.
Bam Adebayo, Heat — In the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues, Adebayo proved to be the rim protector he was at Kentucky. He has plenty of raw skills and a mean streak defensively. His weakness, as it was at Kentucky, is offense. Adebayo needs to learn how to finish besides dunking. He may have served himself better by staying in school and learning more post moves, but he’ll have to do that in Miami under the guidance of Erik Spoelstra.
Markelle Fultz, Sixers — He was as good as advertised. Fultz has a smooth handle, is athletic enough to get to the basket, and is strong enough to finish. He can also knock down shots from the perimeter. The biggest challenge for Fultz is learning how to run a team — getting his teammates involved and scoring selectively.
Fultz will need to get stronger and reduce turnovers, especially in the open court. He was impressive in the 76ers’ two summer league stops, but there were other rookies just as impressive.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics — Other than Mitchell, the buzz in Las Vegas was about Tatum, who scored with ease, got his shot off through contact, and dazzled scouts with his footwork. Tatum is a professional scorer who can drill midrange jumpers and use his length to get to the basket.
It’s apparent that Tatum will be part of the Celtics’ second unit, and he appears prepared for the NBA game. The only issues with Tatum are a reluctance to shoot 3-pointers and his ability to defend stronger small forwards. One critical point was that Tatum showed the ability to play with Jaylen Brown. The two blended well together on the court.
Josh Jackson, Suns — Phoenix started Jackson, Marquese Chriss, and Dragan Bender in the same lineup and the results were positive. Jackson played capably at small forward, more of a playmaker than he was in his lone season at Kansas. He was able to pull down more than nine rebounds per game during summer league and looked comfortable on the perimeter.
Jackson needs to work on shooting, but defensively he is a menace and plays hard on each possession.
Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks — Another candidate for best player in Las Vegas, Smith can score on any point guard and has the athletic explosion to create his own shot. The Mavericks needed to get younger and Smith will get considerable playing time next season. Smith gives the Mavericks a score-first point guard. He was perhaps the best point guard in Las Vegas and should be a starter from the start of training camp.
The Knicks made an astute decision to hire former Detroit, Orlando, and Sacramento executive Scott Perry as general manager, bumping GM Steve Mills to president. Perry had only been in Sacramento for a few months but he was behind the drafting of Fox, Justin Jackson, and Harry Giles, and the recruiting of free agents Hill, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph. Perry was changing the culture with the Kings and now he gets his long-awaited chance to run his own organization. Perry is one of the veteran executives of color who had been waiting for his opportunity, unsure if he would ever get a crack at running his own team . . . Free agent point guard Rajon Rondo was supposed to participate in an NBA Players Association-sponsored program to train prospective NBA coaches and front office officials but had to cancel to conduct free agent meetings. Multiple reports have Rondo agreeing to a one-year deal with the Pelicans . . . The Mavericks viewed A.J. Hammons as a potential sleeper in the 2016 draft. But with a chance to gain valuable salary cap space next summer, the Mavericks moved Hammons to the Heat for the oft-injured Josh McRoberts. The Mavericks now have McRoberts’s expiring contract to use as a trade chip and they also received a future second-round pick and cash. As for Hammons, the Heat are deep at center with Hassan Whiteside and first-round pick Adebayo so it will be difficult for him to make the team.
The Clippers and forward Blake Griffin agreed on a five-year, $173 million deal, keeping the former No. 1 overall pick with the team that drafted him in 2009. Despite battling through injuries the past two seasons, the five-time All Star is one of just six players with career averages of at least 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.