Even from the bench, even in a suit, Kendrick Perkins has a role to play.
You can see it when the Pelicans center — who’s been sidelined since Nov. 3 with a torn pectoral muscle — gets in a sideline discussion with star Anthony Davis; or when he livens up the locker room with a joke.
But Perkins is ready to suit up before his teammates start to tune out.
“Too much talking,” Perkins said Wednesday. “I’m tired of talking. I don’t want guys to get tired of my mouth. I’ve been talking too much, so it’s about time for me to get back on the court.”
That could be happening much sooner than expected.
Though Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said the decision will be left to the medical staff, Perkins said he hopes to play Friday when New Orleans hosts the Washington Wizards at the Smoothie King Center.
That’s well ahead of an original prognosis that had Perkins missing three months for rehab. The 6-foot-10 Perkins said once doctors advised him that he was not at risk of long-term complications or re-injury, he committed to returning to the court even at less then full strength.
“It’s not like I got to go out and be wrestling or fighting with nobody,” Perkins said. “I’m cool.”
In many ways, Perkins — who’s averaging 5.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in three games — is as valuable not playing as he is logging minutes.
Though he remains a physical post defender, his greatest assets are intangible. He brings championship experience from his days as a Boston Celtic and has built a close relationship with Davis, for whom he’s “a great mentor,” Gentry said.
“I think he’s the best teammate I’ve ever seen,” Gentry said. “I mean, without a doubt. I really do believe that.”
Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson called that assessment “absolutely true in every way.” He cited Perkins’ impact in preseason when Anderson was struggling to find his rhythm offensively, his fit in a new system.
“He was just so encouraging and uplifting during that time,” Anderson said. “Not a lot of players would be themselves aside and look at somebody else and say, ‘This guy needs some attention here,’ and he does that on a consistent basis.”
During last week’s game against Cleveland, it was Perkins who challenged Davis to take over the game. Davis responded with six of the first eight points in the overtime period of a 114-108 Pelicans win.
But Perkins said his leadership is more valuable when he’s in uniform, when he can “be out there in the heat of the battle” with his teammates and lead by example. He provides “that voice on both ends” of the court that he thinks a team needs.
“It’s easy to do it when you’re going through good times,” Perkins said. “But when you have those slumps and you have those bad times throughout the course of a 48-minute game, who’s going to be that vocal leader to pick you up? Or who’s going to be that first guy to dive on a loose ball or come up with some kind of big play other than things that show up in the stat sheet?”