Inside Kendrick Perkins’ G League Stint: Out to Earn One Last Shot at the NBA

Inside Kendrick Perkins’ G League Stint: Out to Earn One Last Shot at the NBA

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — Kendrick Perkins looked out of place in every way.             

The arena, for one, wasn’t fitting for an NBA star—a point punctuated by a particularly sparse G League crowd on this Monday night in early February. The locker stall he sat in front of after the game was a similarly poor fit, not built to contain a man with a 6’10", 270-plus-pound frame. As he readied himself to board the team bus, surrounded by towels, empty bottles and puddles of water, teammates had to squeeze past him to get out the door.

This is an NBA champion, a player who shared the court with LeBron, KD, KG. What was he doing here? Why was he slumming it with a minor league basketball team and not enjoying retirement after a $57 million career, or adding to that total with a big paycheck in Europe?

Because in one way, he was not out of place at all. Like every player in the building—every player in the G League—all Perkins wanted was to show he belongs in the NBA.

"This is a perfect opportunity," Perkins said from his locker. "Yes, the money isn’t the same as overseas, but so what? You’re within arm’s reach of the NBA."

At 33, Perkins knows he doesn’t fit in the G League, and he may not fit in today’s NBA, either. But almost two years since his last NBA game, he still isn’t giving up.

So he’s stuck in limbo.

He was averaging 8.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 0.6 blocks with the Canton Charge—the Cleveland Cavaliers’ affiliate—when he "retired" from the G League last week, the team said, "in hopes that someone will use an open roster spot for him in the coming weeks."

It briefly looked like Perkins he found that spot. On Feb. 8, he tweeted a photo of himself in a Cavaliers jersey with the message "Blessed to be back," but he later deleted it. A few hours earlier, Marc Stein of the New York Times had reported Perkins’ signing could be imminent:

Perkins put in the work with Canton, taking care of himself better than his younger self would have. He’s in shape. But he also knows the pace of the game is the biggest challenge for him now.

The NBA has morphed into an outside-in game, with an emphasis on running when you can and shooting threes before twos—even if you’re a big man.

That isn’t lost on Perkins. When he entered the league straight out of high school in 2003, most of his Canton Charge teammates weren’t finished with middle school. The game was much more physical. Offenses largely relied on half-court sets, and rules allowed for more contact. He’s a bruising player who works best with his back to the basket or punishing guys on screen-and-rolls.

When his last NBA stint ended in April 2016, he had become almost an anomaly. By his own admission, he needed to adjust to fit in.

Away from the league’s bright lights, he was able to take a minute to breathe deeply and take stock of it all.

"One of my old coaches, Scott Brooks, said, ‘Don’t take this NBA life for granted, because it goes by fast,’ and it really does," Perkins said. "I looked up, and 13 years is gone real quick, and next thing you know, I’m back to a point where I’m fighting to get an opportunity to get back in.

"It’s humbling, and you need a different type of mental toughness. But at the same time, I think it’s good for me. I’m at a part of my life where I needed to go through this."

Perkins said he had offers to play overseas in the 2016 offseason, but pride led him to wait for an NBA call that didn’t come.

"I ended up networking and getting a training camp invite [this season] with the Cavs, but they didn’t have a spot for me," Perkins said. "I ended up in Canton’s training camp, and I’ve been putting in work ever since."

Not just to show he can still contribute on the court, but also to show—as Stein noted regarding his value to the Cavs—what a positive force he can be off it.

During his time with the Charge, he had a chance to be the sort of leader for his teammates that players like Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Gary Payton were for him.

"I’m trying to complete my journey and go forward and make it back, [but] at the same time, I’m trying to teach these young and hungry guys," he said. "They’re so willing to listen and open-minded, it’s incredible."

Canton head coach Nate Reinking saw Perkins’ effect on his teammates firsthand.

"It’s been unbelievable having him on the team this year," Reinking said. "Having someone with his experience, his resume, his pedigree, a championship player, everything about him being a great teammate, he’s an extension of the coaching staff on the floor. He brings everything you want to the culture of a team."

Perkins even hinted that he would potentially trade in his shorts and jersey for a suit and clipboard in the future.

But for now, he’s still looking to play the game as long as he can—to earn his way back into the NBA, as Emeka Okafor just did with the New Orleans Pelicans after a stint with the Delaware 87ers, and as Brandon Jennings will try to do with the Wisconsin Herd.

It’s a numbers-and-needs game, and all Perkins can do is make sure he’s ready if needed.

"At the end of the day, I’m trying to pursue and get back in [the NBA], and hopefully I get a call-up for the remainder of the season," he said. "That’s my goal. All the people that say, ‘You’re done’—all the quote-unquote experts that aren’t really experts—you’re trying to prove them wrong. …

"The key to it is who’ll give you that shot—who’s going to give you an opportunity. And it comes with sacrifice."

The road back was never going to be easy. But Perkins is more than willing to swim in the swamp if it means coming up clean on the shore.

Breaking Sports News

via Bleacher Report – Front Page

February 15, 2018 at 07:05AM


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