WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — For the first time he can remember, Kendrick Perkins is the oldest player on his basketball team.
And even though Perkins won’t turn 31 until Nov. 10, meaning he’s hardly a graybeard, the new elder statesman of the Pelicans is feeling his years, especially after three days of training camp at The Greenbrier.
“This is the hard part,” Perkins said Wednesday after the team went through an extended practice session. “This is 13 of these for me and they get a little tougher every time.”
Rest assured, the Pels aren’t worried about their backup center being ready when the season begins.
In fact, they didn’t sign him so much for extended minutes as to be a locker room leader. That’s been a big part of Perkins’ presence throughout his career, which includes being part of the Boston Celtics 2008 title team along with Oklahoma City’s 2012 Finals team and going to the Finals again last season at Cleveland after being traded from the Thunder at midseason.
“Kendrick brings championship experience, plus his background, from how he made it to the NBA to his role in the NBA,” Pels General Manager Dell Demps said. “I think his contributions will be hard to measure because they’ll be on and off the court.
“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.”
Pels coach Alvin Gentry paid Perkins and even higher compliment when he said, “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.”
That’s quite a statement about a player who has never reached superstardom (5.2 career points per game and 5.6 rebounds) since coming to the league straight out of Ozen High School in Beaumont, Texas, in 2003. He was the No. 27 pick in the draft in the year LeBron James was No. 1. But he has had a remarkably stable career.
The Pelicans are only fourth team for Perkins. He was with the Celtics for 7½ seasons and with the Thunder for four before spending the final part of last season with the Cavs, who signed him after Utah waived him two days after he was traded from OKC to the Jazz.
But coming to the Pelicans was a move Perkins said he wanted to make.
“This is a little different,” he said. “But you have to do whatever is available.
“New Orleans, from the jump, showed great interest in me, even during the trade last year. It’s an adjustment, but it’s feeling like home to me, so it hasn’t been that hard.”
Part of the reason New Orleans is already feeling like home to Perkins is that his wife, Vanity, and sons Kendrick Jr. and Kenxton, have already moved to Kendrick Sr.’s new home base.
“When you have a family and kids, you want to be in their lives a lot,” he said. “Especially now that they’re in school, I don’t want to be taking them out and moving them around all the time.
“I’ve already had to spend too much time away from them.”
And while Perkins may also bring a fatherly attitude toward his new teammates, he can contribute more than being a locker room presence to a team that has no others players who have turned 30.
Perkins has always been a physical post defender and shot blocker (892 in his career). And missing Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against the Lakers when his absence was considered a crucial factor for the Celtics, Perkins has worked diligently to stay in shape.
The one-time 310-pounder is now at 275 and said he would like to drop another 15 pounds before the opener at Golden State, now less than a month away.
But it is that championship experience the Pelicans can use most.
The Pels squeezed into to the playoffs last year, and while few expect them to become a title contender this season, Perkins can see it happening with a star like Anthony Davis.
“He’s got the game of Kevin Garnett and the mindset of Kevin Durant,” he said. “The most important thing I can bring is a winning mentality. That’s doing whatever it takes — whether it’s being a voice, or a leader in the weight room and or a leader on the court.
“I just want the guys to know about winning.”
And, there’s some personal unfinished business.
The seventh-game loss to the Lakers still bothers him, and while OKC was considered not ready to take on Miami in 2012, Perkins points out that with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love last season, the Finals against Golden State could have had a different outcome.
“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to play,” he said. “This is all I’ve ever done, but lately I’ve been thinking about what I might do after I’m through.
“That’s why I like being on this team. They work hard, they want to learn and they want to win.”
Sounds just like the way that 18-year-old from Beaumont felt back when he was the youngest player on his team.