By Alan Segel
UPDATE: During my talk with Kendrick Perkins it became very apparent just how passionate he was and is about playing basketball. He talked about working hard and wanting to get in the line-up as soon as possible. He mentioned February 4th as the date for his return but something interesting happened on the way to his return. The doctors cleared him and Perkins made his way back on Tuesday against the Cavaliers.
He entered the game about 5 minutes in and received a long and loud standing ovation. He acknowledged the crowd and it was then time for business. He scored almost immediately and when the dust cleared Perkins played just over 17 minutes. He finished with 7 points(3-5)6 rebounds and 3 assists. He certainly was rusty. However, he looked healthy. If he stays that way, and there is no reason to think he won’t, he will get better each time out.
His return will allow Doc Rivers to cut Shaq’s minutes and in turn he will be even more effective than he has been. The return comes just in time for the Celtics hard West Coast trip that includes a game with the Lakers on Sunday January 30th.
When Kendrick Perkins returns to the line-up, as he hopes, on or about February 4th Celtics management and their fans can say a very big thank you to Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker. The Pats dynamo knowingly did not do anything to help Perkins recover from his torn ACL surgery. Rather, just by doing his job, as Bill Belichick likes to say, Welker got the ball rolling in a very positive direction.
The timing of Perkins’ injury and surgery very much had a hand in creating this scenario. Perkins was hurt during game six of the NBA finals against the Lakers on June 15th, 2010 . He went up for a rebound of a Rajon Rondo miss with 5:30 left in the first quarter. He jumped between Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum and landed awkwardly tearing his anterior cruciate ligament(ACL) and damaging two other ligaments. He underwent surgery on July 12th and was home soon after. He also, as one could expect, was not in the greatest of moods. During this initial recovery time, which also signaled the start of rehab for the long road back, the Patriots were getting into camp. Here is where the two events came together and provided Perkins the biggest motivation he could have imagined.
“Luckily for me the time I started rehabbing I happened to turn on my TV and see Wes Welker, ” said Perkins. “He was on there cutting without a brace and back on the field and cutting hard in five months and so I think that motivated me a lot. Just to see him out there healthy, looking in great shape, like he never missed a beat. So, I know he is a lot shorter and a lot smaller than me but at the same time I felt like if he could do it, I could do it. So I think that just motivated me to not really sit around and feel sorry for myself.”
Welker of course suffered a devastating knee injury in the final regular season game of the 2009 season in Houston against the Texans. He made it back to have a great season in 2010 and Perkins is hoping for the same kind of results for the rest of this season.
The day after the injury, as the Celtics were getting ready for game 7 of the finals, Perkins was at his lowest. He was at the Celtics practice at the Staples Center and talked to the media about the injury. He said that day that “he probably would never get a chance to make it back to the finals and that he was doing better physically than mentally.” It was of course the words of an athlete that was distraught. It is not an easy road to achieve greatness as a team and reach the finals, in any sport. Perkins knows that and the fact he could not play in game seven and help his team try to win a championship played a part in his somber mood. As he thinks of those moments now though, about possibly not reaching the finals again, he can put it in perspective.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Perkins suggests. “Sometimes you have to go through bad times to get to the good times. So, I try not think about it and try to keep moving forward. But in the back of my mind it is always there.”
Perkins was extremely dedicated to doing his rehab right. He asked many doctors for their opinions and he followed the advice. He rehabbed a bit before surgery because they suggested it would make recovery shorter and more effective. The first month after surgery was the hardest. He had to deal with the pain and the fact he could not walk. However, he still went into the weight room to work on his body. He also paid attention to his diet. The results have been spectacular. Perkins is back working with his team and I think he is in tremendous shape.
It is not just me though. The NEW Perk has been noticed by the guys that mattered most-his teammates. He has a had chance to talk with Kevin Garnett and KG’s words have come through loud and clear.
“KG told me that you’re improved so much,” said Perkins. “Your body looks better than when you got hurt. You’re moving a whole lot better, even after the surgery. What you put into something is what you get out of it.”
Perkins mentioned to me that KG also told him not to be infatuated with the money or the fame. He advised him rather to be infatuated with getting better everyday. He is listening and using the words to guide him. He also is motivated by the fact the Celtics signed Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal. Perkins knew he had to stay on top of his game because nothing is set in stone in sports. There was never a guarantee that when he was ready to come back his position would be automatically handed to him.
Perkins has been itching to get back on the court and his patience and hard work was finally rewarded on January 16th. He returned to full practice for the first time and by all accounts looked great. “My first day of practice guys were telling me how good I looked. Doc was saying how good I looked. He was saying it looked like I could give him 15-20 minutes the next game. I think that motivates you. Just getting [plaudits] from your teammates telling you man it felt good to be out there. Our starting five was in tact and just for them to embrace me into that role just means a lot.”
Doc Rivers and everyone else realizes that to find out just where Perkins is will not be known until he is back on the active roster and playing in games. However, while this is only the preliminary stage of his comeback Doc can’t help but be impressed by everything he has seen. There was initial worry that Perkins might get out of shape and gain weight but none of that has happened. In fact it has been completely the opposite.
“As far as a guy that has done his rehab he has done it as hard as any guy I have seen,” said the Celtics coach. “He has done everything he can possibly do to get right. He has lost weight and he has lost body fat. And that is very impressive.”
If the February 4th date(Perkins timetable) does materialize Perkins will return to the floor just short of 8 months from that fateful night in Los Angeles. He has seen much during this time and like many athletes forced to sit he has watched and absorbed.
“I learned a lot,” says Perkins. “I see what Doc goes through in a day just coaching the team. You see your worth, your value, when you are not out there. You see the things you can go out and do that the team is missing, different little things. You try to drop your bad habits. You just pick up a lot.”
Perkins has been through a long period of time without the sport he loves. He is ready to finally get back to playing and being around his teammates. He knows the night of his return could be emotional. He is counting the days but as he says, “These days are not going by fast enough.”
HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE INTERVIEW I DID WITH KENDRICK PERKINS: https://seegsboston.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/kendrick-perkins-interview.mp3