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When I think of NBA All-Stars, big names come to mind. Household names. Names that can stand alone. Kobe. LeBron, Dirk. Shaq. Iverson. Basketball is one of the few sports where one player can make (see: LeBron) or break (see: Gilbert Arenas, circa 2008-09) his team. There are a handful of Celtics who have this credential. What follows is the saga of one who does not.
Kendrick Perkins, Boston’s starting center, does not currently have the potential to make or break the Celtics. Don’t get me wrong – he is an invaluable asset to the Celtics’ roster. Unfortunately, invaluable assets are not All-Stars. When Perk turns 25 in a few weeks, he will have spent each of his six NBA seasons as a Celtic. He came into the league right out of high school, still wearing diapers. Since then, he has shed those diapers for boxer briefs, but few people outside Boston know his name. If fans don’t know your name, you can’t get votes. The All-Star Game is not necessarily a popularity contest, but, well, it kind of ends up being a popularity contest. Remember when Chris Bosh’s All-Star campaigning videos went viral in 2008?
In Boston, Perk’s paint presence, especially during Kevin Garnett’s absence, is an important (albeit overshadowed) part of the Celtics’ success. He may not be a prototypical NBA big man, but he gets the job done. Perkins is eclipsed by four superstars in Boston whose names can stand alone (arguably five now with Rasheed Wallace), but he gets his minutes and he subtly makes them count. To the casual fan, Perkins is “that other guy in the Celtics’ starting lineup.” To the Boston fan, he is an essential piece to the Celtic puzzle.
By no means is Perkins flashy. He is scrappy. By no means is Perkins dominant. He is ancillary. Last season he averaged 8.5 points and 8.1 rebounds, which is impressive considering that most of the statistical load was shouldered by KG (when healthy), Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Perkins is the fifth most valuable player in the Celtics’ starting lineup. Put simply, that does not stamp All-Star ballots.
Perk is lucky to have the Celtics. Where else, in only six years, could he have traded in his diapers for a starting position on an NBA Championship team? Perkins, along with Pierce, has been with the Celtics through the bad and the good (chronologically speaking), thereby allowing him to carve out a little niche in Boston. That niche, regardless of how effectively he fills it, does not qualify him as an NBA All-Star center. Send Perk to a team with a mediocre starting lineup and the need for a post presence (which, these days, could be almost anywhere), and he could make a name for himself.
But, before delving into the realm of Kendrick Perkins as a viable NBA center, please allow a brief digression. It was not too long ago when the likes of Robert Parish, Bill Lambeer, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, and Hakeem Olajuwon owned the paint. Before that it was Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russel, and George Mikan. They were men among boys. Trees among twigs. Lineman among kickers. Today, the only guys in the game who can even compare are Shaq, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, and Yao Ming. Greg Oden…don’t even get me started. The true NBA center is a dying breed. They just don’t make ’em like they used to.
Last season, at 6’10,” 280 pounds, Kendrick was not built like a true NBA center. He was a bit short and a bit heavy to really dominate his Eastern Conference foes. Dwight Howard is listed at 6’11”, 265, and is alarmingly athletic. Chris Bosh: 6’10”, 230. Shaq: 7’1″, 325. Granted, it does look as though Perk was on the Subway diet this offseason (he allegedly lost 20 pounds, putting him closer to 260), but his build is still a bit thick to compete with Dwight’s athleticism and Bosh’s lankiness, and too thin to combat Shaq’s behemoth post presence. The Magic and Raptors rely heavily on Howard and Bosh, respectively, and we can assume that the Cavs will put a fair amount of emphasis on Shaq, but the Celtics roster is simply too good for Perkins to get that kind of attention. I repeat: To be an NBA All-Star (as each aforementioned foe was last year), you can’t be the fourth or fifth option on your own team. Either Perkins will have to leave Boston, or Boston will have to dump some superstars before his name will even appear on an All-Star ballot.
Speaking of superstars, the Celtics’ addition of Rasheed Wallace will add a twist to this year’s squad, and certainly will not help Perkins stand out on a roster already chock-full of big names. In 66 games with Detroit last season, Wallace averaged 12 points and 7.4 rebounds. This was a Detroit team, mind you, that spiraled into despair midway through last season and barely made the playoffs. Rasheed was essentially a role player, finishing the season sixth on the team in scoring and hauling down nearly all of his rebounds on the defensive end. If Doc can figure out a system, Perkins and Wallace could rotate in and out of games like clockwork. Perkins, having spent his career in Boston, will naturally get more time than the aging, notoriously hotheaded Wallace, but Rasheed will be a great addition off the bench. He will take some of the load off Perkins down low, which will give Perk more freedom on both ends of the floor.
Perkins is a good player, but until he can separate himself from one of the deadliest threesomes in the league (aside from a three-man reffing crew including Tim Donaghy and Dick Bavetta), he cannot be an All-Star caliber player. Even with said separation, he would still have to go far above and beyond his normal call of duty to prove himself among the best centers in the league. For Kendrick, Boston has been both a blessing (the opportunity to develop through the system of an NBA Championship team) and a curse (the obligation to play a diminished role on a very talented roster).
The name “Kendrick” or “Perkins” may never stand alone in the NBA, but anyone who appreciates an unsung hero will recognize Kendrick Perkins as an All-Star in his own regard. He flies under the radar, but that doesn’t keep him from working hard and putting the Celtics in a position to win games. For Perk to earn All-Star status, he must transcend the radar and outperform his opponents on a regular basis. Perk hasn’t reached that level, but the Celtics haven’t given him the opportunity to do so. The true test will be what transpires if the opportunity presents itself.
Frankly, I hope that opportunity does not present itself in Boston.