Sports

Kendrick Perkins Is Trying to Get Back into an NBA He No Longer Fits

The former Celtics and Thunder big man is slogging away in the G League, waiting for a call that will probably never come.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What is the experience of waiting like for you? Standing in a line at the store, feeling person after person walk up to the counter and walk away, stepping forward, just sort of sitting there as time ticks by. Some people are driven nuts by this. Some people accept it as a fundamental fact of modern life and can distract themselves from the monotony by scanning magazines, thinking about candy, whatever.

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Some people even manage to go a step farther and free themselves from the craving of the wait altogether. They stand still and observe their inner light, totally at peace with the line and its existence, allowing people to go without having the sensation of one’s life draining away bring them any stress at all. Certainly, I am waiting, they think, but I am also living, and this is a part of life that one accepts as one does all other parts of life.

This is a blog post about a Kendrick Perkins, who is standing in line, waiting. Perk is currently playing on the Canton Charge of the NBA G League (formerly the NBA Development League), averaging 12.8 points on 50 percent shooting, 8.6 boards, 2.8 assists, and 1.8 turnovers in 28.6 minutes a game, waiting for someone to ask him to play in the NBA.

Perk isn’t injured, or bad, or insanely old, or anything like that. He’s just Kendrick Perkins. For a hot second, in the wake of Tyson Chandler being the missing piece to a Dallas Mavericks championship, a sort of theoretical construct was assigned to Perkins: that of a defensive center who was older and tough, the piece a team needed to take the next step in the NBA. He appeared to be the defensive presence of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dreams.

Unfortunately, Kendrick had a fucked-up ankle, was too slow to cover pick-and-rolls, and was an offensive liability who still somehow managed to manipulate Scott Brooks into giving him at least one post-up touch a game. He spent several years subtly ballasting the Thunder while the organization disappointed season after season, in ways small and large, until Kevin Durant left the squad to Russell Westbrook and his maniacal cult.

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But Perk kept on working, the frame that people put on him, veteran, reliable, etc., etc., just barely waving around his large, angry face. LeBron James, who loves dudes like Kendrick—bad players with marginal utility who are willing to get into fights—got him on the Cavs after he finally washed out of OKC. Then the Pelicans, an organization built around the singular idea that being large and muscular makes you good at basketball, took a flier, and even managed to get him some minutes on a team that was comically shallow.

Perk never really got unplayably injured or any shit like that. He’s just… substandard. He’s big, but he is insanely slow, not that tall, his hands are no good, he misses foul shots. Kind of bad. Once upon a time, it wouldn’t have mattered all that much. There was a time when all kinds of big, plodding dudes commandeered NBA minutes because conventional wisdom was that you needed a center. Perk’s career started in that world, he signed a contract right as it ended, and then he played out the string in a world where that construct became more and more embarrassing by the day.

There’s a wonderful David Grann story about a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson playing for the San Diego Surf Dawgs, hoping that a major league scout would take a look and see that, hey, he’s still got something in the tank. Rickey comes off as delusional but heroic, a lone warrior fighting against time and the decomposition of the body and a judgmental world that was all too willing to call him an old man. A baseball Don Quixote, in short, a wonderful avatar for a human's ability to never stop striving, to never give up on their dreams, even if they've already lived them out as much as a human possibly could.

Perk slogging away on Canton contains, truly, none of that beauty. It is a tenure lined deep with cynicism and none of the madness or joy that Rickey had. His team sucks in the G League, a league that is named after Gatorade. The G League is probably comfortably the fourth or fifth best league in the world, behind a handful of European leagues that employ weird auteurist coaches and the bloated, completely insane Chinese Basketball Association. It's here that Perk, playing against the kind of reedy little shooter who benefits most from being under the constant scope of modern NBA scouts, finally gets to live out the post-up dreams he’s lusted after his whole career, his heft easily plowing the small bodies of guys who are designed more for spotting up as deep as possible, which only impresses the most retrograded basketball consumer.

But it’s also the quickest way to get into the NBA, and that’s what Perk wants: for some team on the fringes, frustrated with its young players and haunted by its God-awful defense, to decide, beyond all evidence and reason, that the only solution to its weird, terrible problems is to sign a hulking mediocrity who won a Finals because he played with Kevin Garnett, teaching everyone that if you fly straight and, uh, play basketball horribly, you too can make way too much money while sinking every squad to sign you after the age of 25. It is the basketball they play in hell.