A celebration of the NBA's most infuriating players, both past and present. Read other NBA Shit List entries here.
The story of Kendrick Perkins, whatever he does from this day forward, will begin and end with two Very Bad Moves. Off the court, I mean. Everyone knows Perk doesn't have moves on the court, because Perk is less a basketball player than a piece of heavy equipment that someone dragged onto the court from a rock quarry.
Neither of these Very Bad Decisions is Perkins's fault. But because Perk is so demonstrably inept on the court, he stands as the physical embodiment of what these two Very Bad Decisions actually were: a breach of the public trust.
Here's Very Bad Move No. 1: Thunder GM Sam Presti's decision not to amnesty Perkins's contract. The amnesty provision, in short, was as much of a reset button for NBA owners as the new collective bargaining agreement was. Thirty or so billionaires were determined to stop "losing money" via six-year, $112 million deals handed out to Rashard Lewis types, and short of just being marginally better at their jobs, they were at least going to make sure they didn't have to live with the consequences. But for some goddamn reason, the Dec. 16, 2011, amnesty deadline passed, and Kendrick Perkins was not Travis Outlawed. Two weeks later, he'd light up opening night with six points and four rebounds in 29 minutes.
While the trade and immediate extension for Perkins was initially heralded as a bit of cap-stretching genius by Thunder GM Sam Presti, the writing was on the wall by the end of the lockout-shortened year. The value of locking up a lumpy, offensively challenged "starting center" for five years—in a league getting smaller and more athletic by the day—was limited, and so were Perk's playoff minutes. In 78 games the next season, Perkins would score more than 12 points only once while posting a career-low PER of 8.2. He improved his team's defense by only 2.2 points per 100 possessions—same as Steve Blake—and spent most of his time on the court glowering with outstretched palms after foul calls, looking like a guy who'd just noticed his stigmata. It was a grim year, but still no amnesty came.
And it doesn't appear it ever will. No, amnestying Perkins wouldn't suddenly make him a useful player or save the OKC owners his absurd salary (did you know that for $9,154,342, you could outright buy 12 6-foot-10, 270-pound humanoid cyborgs with malfunctioning Basketball Court Spacing Units?), but it would've saved them something better: money, earmarked for James Harden. And therein lies Very Bad Decision No. 2.
It's one thing for an NBA front office to bungle its roster out of sheer incompetence—we're looking at you, James Dolan—but it's something else entirely to watch a valuable NBA team that has otherwise been constructed in an intelligent and exacting manner to slide its title window a few inches closer to the sill simply because its rich owner didn't feel like being a little less rich. Yes, keeping Harden would have put the Thunder over the luxury-tax line even after amnestying Perkins, but so what? Why should a rich guy saving himself a few million dollars excuse the decision to boot a superstar shooting guard while keeping a center who moves like he's made of igneous rock?
Kendrick Perkins is a grim symbol of what a slapdick experience it is to be a sports fan. Men who own NBA teams are galactically rich, and they get to stay that way because fans of their teams love basketball so much that they are willing to hand over gobs and gobs of money to these men in the form of cable subscriptions, stadium financing, ticket sales, beer sales, etc. And then fans look the other way while these galactically rich men pretend that owning a pro sports team isn't like having your own personal mint in your basement. Why do fans do this? Because watching giant, graceful athletes dunk basketballs is really, really fun. All the owners have to do in return is pay those giant and graceful athletes enough money so that fans can continue to watch them dunk basketballs and do other fun stuff for a few years.
And yet so few of the owners do so that we're conditioned to accept front-office austerity as a fact of sports business (what was Moneyball about, after all?) Fans and media treat as the natural order of things the willful decision by a rich man to damage the quality of his product in order to make himself marginally richer. This is one hilarious feature of American sports—we not only watch sports leagues that incentivize their franchises to produce an inferior product, lest they spend too much money on the talent; we cheer for the cost-saving. We've created a derivative sport out of watching capologists monkey around with exemptions. We grade transactions according to how much money they'll save their owners. For trading away Harden, Clay Bennett should've gotten all the vile shit LeBron got for The Decision, if not more—in strict business terms, LeBron went to Miami and gave fans a better, more entertaining product—but instead OKC's move was regarded in certain quarters as a regrettable but necessary concession to some immutable physical law.
If you're still not convinced, take your cues from Thunder GM Sam Presti. Hours before dealing Harden to Houston for one year of Kevin Martin and a grab bag of picks, Presti was praying Harden would accept a four-year, $52 million deal—a deal that would've paid him even more than the just-extended Serge Ibaka, and a deal that would've banished their luxury-tax-avoidance plans to the land of wind and ghosts. Meanwhile, Kendrick Perkins got his deal because a few CBA quirks allowed the Thunder not to hand Jeff Green a jersey anymore. Of course, at the time, Perk's game looked more like a professional center's and less like what happened when someone got bored of NBA 2k14 and left the Xbox controller upside down on the floor, but nevertheless: Presti wanted Harden. He settled for Perkins.
Who did want Perkins then? Rather, who tied both of Presti's hands behind his back and told him to go pick a fight with the Pat Rileys of the world? Why, Clay Bennett of course, the world's first poor millionaire. Maybe if his investment had appreciated a bit more than $125 million in the seven years since he "good faith effort"-ed his way out of the Pacific Northwest, he could have scraped together the extra $8 million or so his championship-contending team needed to retain one of its three young superstars. Alas! I suppose we'll just have to trust that the guy who decided the Kings should stay in Sacramento just three years after burying the Sonics has something else up his sleeve. After all, he usually does.
So here's Kendrick Perkins, fee-fi-fo-fumming his away up and down the court for 20 minutes a game. To watch him catch the ball at the foul line, imitate a dribble-like motion two times, plunk the ball between his massive hands as if to say "Namaste," and immediately pick up his pivot foot is not altogether joyless. (Schadenfreude is technically joy.) Sadly, Perk's play now seems like a prolonged exercise in ensuring that "bull in a china shop" is one day supplanted as the go-to metaphor for awkward/disastrous predicaments by "Kendrick Perkins in the low post."
It's gross, and it's an affront to fun. It's not in the same zip code as fun. It's less fun than going on a nature walk in downstate Illinois with Kendrick Perkins, listening to him point out the subtle variations in different sorts of prairie grass. It's anti-fun. He is a reminder that, no matter how much you may love the game of basketball, the business of basketball will always hate you more.
Jesse Farrar is a Deadspin reader and commenter. You can find him clipping Z-Bo's toenails and massaging Marc Gasol's ligaments.