There's no way you thought that title was serious, right?
Kendrick Perkins is one of the best-known jokesters in the entire NBA. He makes the Mount Rushmore of goofiest players, alongside Javale McGee, Nick Young, and JR Smith. So I guess the title of this article is a tribute to his jokiness.
When the Pelicans signed Perkins this summer, many fans bemoaned the signing as a waste of cap space and a roster spot. Not only are salaries expensive but so are court-side seats, and face it, that's most likely what you thought Perkins would be used as, a benchwarmer.
However, recent events have nullified those logical conjectures and called up Perkins out onto the court.
The injuries to Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca mean that Perkins is likely to feature in at least the first two weeks of the Pelicans' season. In some games, he could even start. While that might be scary to you, don't fret; it's better than the alternative of some greenhorn who gets nervous and is clearly out of his depth.
Examining the career of Perkins, there is a clear divide between when he was a difference-maker and when he was a minute-filler. In the former stage, Doc Rivers asserted that had Perkins been healthy during the 2010 Finals, the Celtics would have won. In the latter stage, it is generally acknowledged and accepted that the main reward of acquiring Perkins comes with his toughness, experience, and leadership, and, if need be, he can set foot on the court.
That discrepancy formed in the 2010-2011 injury-packed year for Perkins, and the old KP now only exists in accounts of the past. He was very good before and very average after.
With no disrespect, let's not dwell on the past. There is no recovering the lost athleticism and skill for Perkins, but that doesn't mean he can't still do his job with the Pelicans.
For the first week or two, Perkins' role will mimic Asik's. His assignment will be to defend the rim, set hard screens, and contribute to rebounding, whether with a forceful box-out or a solo grab. Offensively, he will only get one or two self-created chances a game outside of dump-offs and offensive rebounds and his contributions will be marginal.
Here's what you can expect during an average game stat-wise from the big KP during that time: 23 mins, 5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, and 3 fouls. Stats were calculated based off of his previous contributions and considering that those 23 minutes will be action-packed with high pace.
Those are your first couple of weeks. After that, he probably will still see occasional playing time, but only for a few minutes a game, and that's assuming he's not a liability during those first two weeks. King Kendrick will likely reassume his place on the throne known as the bench and, like any leader, issue orders and command, but not from the front line.
Throughout the season, Perkins will bring valuable leadership and toughness to a team bereft of both, however. As I mentioned earlier in the summer, the Pelicans are growing together as a team but still lack an enforcer or protector. Remember when Anthony Davis took exception to the way Marreese Speights was guarding him (very physically, to put it softly)? Speights excitedly jumped on the chance to provoke Davis and got in his face.
And that tells the entire story. There was no intervention with a Pelicans player stepping in to interrupt the confrontation. Nobody ran in and gave Speights a shove for good measure. Nobody stood by the side of the best power forward in the game.
In other words, Grievis Vasquez and Jason Smith were long gone. And the Pelicans missed them.
Adding Perkins gives the Pelicans a bouncer and an arbiter (or inciter, when necessary) for arguments. Like it or not, that's part of basketball. It's a role that Perkins has served at the Cavs, the Thunder, and the Celtics while protecting some of basketball's best. It'll be no different in New Orleans.
In this Cavs-Celtics games, things were getting a little bit too chippy and touchy between Jae Crowder and LeBron James. A hard screen speaks louder than words. And a Perkins loud screen can reverberate throughout a building.
All of the teams that recently won championships had these types of players. The Warriors had Speights and Draymond Green, the Spurs had Aron Baynes and Patty Mills, the Heat had Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman, the Mavs had DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood... you get the point. Toughness is necessary to truly compete.
Aside from the physicality increase, Perkins gives the Pelicans a leader and mentor. I know how bizarre and peculiar that phrase sounds, and that's why I'm asking you not to trust me. Trust the team.
First, here's what Perkins said about his impact on the team:
"Except for AD, the rest of our guys are at the point in their careers where it’s time to make statements, about who they are. If they’re going to be winners or not in this league. I feel like over the last month and a half that I’ve been with these guys, they’re more than ready. You can tell they’re ready to listen."
Okay, that sounds like a pretty big impact. What about Alvin Gentry's view?
"I’ve not talked to one person who’s played with him who doesn’t think he’s one of the best teammates they’ve ever had."
Again, solid. Now time for Dell Demps' turn.
"He’ll be able to talk to guys in the locker room because we’re going to be in some situations where we going to need that guy to help get them over the hump."
And saving the highest praise for last, here's Dante Cunningham.
"It’s like he’s a coach-player almost. He has such great insight to what’s going on on the court. That allows us to sit back and see exactly what the coach is trying to put on the court, because he’ll give us another way of saying what the coach is saying. That’s another step this team needs, with such a young group of guys."
Perkins' role off the court will be his main contribution to this Pelicans team, no doubt about it. He has championship experience, will serve as a bodyguard, and knows the game inside-out. To tie it to the beginning though, Perk is not content with just contributing in an advisory sense.
"I know I’m here to be a leader and be a veteran and all that, but I want to play. I’m a guy who wants to compete. I want to play. I want to win. At the end of the day, if the opportunity presents itself, I’m not looking back."
While it is doubtful that Perkins will surpass either Ajinca or Asik on the depth chart with earth-shaking numbers, that opportunity has presented itself. A slim, sinew-thin chance that for the sake of probability, we'll disregard. Perkins' season, however, could take very divergent paths.
First, Perkins could stave off his position competitors by gelling with the team. If the Pelicans manage to speedily assert themselves as Western Conference playoff members, then Gentry made favor a consistent starting five until a poor stretch hits. This case would allow Perkins to start, although he would likely not play starter minutes, like he did in Oklahoma City.
Second, Perkins could play well enough (meaning the numbers I foresee) that the Pelicans fare just fine without Ajinca or Asik, but the missing two's contributions are obvious. In this scenario, Perkins' would continue to remain on the team's active roster throughout the season and be used sparingly in most games.
Finally, and God forbid, Perkins starts the season out and is not only a liability but a detriment to the team when on the court. Here, he would stay on the team as purely a player-coach and ride out his career like Juwan Howard. This is the least ideal obviously, but the outcome would not be unlike the second, the most likely. Perkins might not contribute on the court for the rest of the season, but, as even he acknowledged, that's not why the Pelicans signed him anyway.
As previously mentioned, the most likely course is the second. But none are bad. At best, you get a contributor with veteran experience and toughness; at worst, you get a teacher with veteran experience and toughness. The "veteran experience and toughness" is the big plus in either case.
As the season unfolds, Perkins' role will set in. Assuming future injuries (knock on wood all you want, but with this team they're bound to happen), Perkins will see fluctuations in playing time, but with healthy ranks, don't expect to see him too much on the court outside of injury-time, as will happen in the first two weeks.
Those first two weeks are important, though. One minute, one second, one shot can separate a playoff team from a lottery one, as Pelican fans know better than anybody. Don't discount those first two weeks.
More importantly, though, don't discount the rest of the season for Perkins. Just because he does not receive the attention of on-court players, his teachings and toughness could still make a big impact.
Perkins will be on the screen because of his facial expressions, and he'll be making plenty of six-second movies that bring smiles to many faces. But in terms of the feature film that is the Pelicans season, Perkins won't be in the public eye. He'll be a behind-the-scenes cast member, and even though you may not see what he does, his contributions could just make the difference.