OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kendrick Perkins started to hear it from his new teammates when he walked into the Thunder’s practice facility wearing sneakers that were Celtics green.
It didn’t take long to remedy that.
By the end of his first practice with Oklahoma City on Saturday, he was wearing new shoes with bright orange on them and talking about his desire to stay with the Thunder long term.
Perkins knows he’s going to miss the brotherhood he formed during a run to the championship and then back to the NBA finals in Boston, but the Celtics are no longer at the top of his list when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.
“I hope I can be here. I want to be here,” Perkins said. “I couldn’t find a better situation for myself. I really want to be here and this is just a great organization, just learning every day, just being around, it’s overwhelming.
“I do want to be here and hopefully we can work something out. They are the first option, the first team on my plate with free agency coming up or whatever it may be. I just know Oklahoma City will be my first option.”
Perkins was unable to agree to an extension with the Celtics, who dealt him to the Thunder at the trade deadline for starters Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Guard Nate Robinson also came over to Oklahoma City, which sent the Celtics a 2012 first-round draft pick and cash.
Oklahoma City is counting on Perkins to become the interior defensive presence it had been lacking, but could have to wait a couple weeks before his debut. Perkins was wearing a sleeve on his sprained left knee and said he’s hopeful he can be back in time for the Thunder’s six-game homestand that starts March 18.
“I’m just here for the long haul,” Perkins said. “As long as I can get me some good games in in the regular season, get a good push going into the playoffs, I think I’m going to be all right.”
Perkins said he was interested in playing for Oklahoma City as early as last offseason, when he discussed with agent Arn Tellem whether the Thunder might be interested in him when this season was over. He ended up moving sooner than he expected, and was initially shaken up at being traded away from the only NBA team he’d ever played for.
“If he didn’t take it hard, something’s wrong with Kendrick Perkins,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But he understands that’s it’s an opportunity for him to be on a team that does everything at a championship level. Our ownership is championship, management is championship, what we do for our players is championship. The work that we put on the floor is championship.
“We want to get to that level one day.”
Perkins could be the key to making that happen a lot sooner. As soon as he got off a plane in Oklahoma City, he started hearing about how excited people in the city were to have him clogging up the middle against other Western Conference contenders who are loaded inside.
“Now I feel like I’ve got to come in and be better than ever as far as being a defensive-minded player and bring in a defensive mentality to this team,” Perkins said. “I know they’ve already got it. I’m just trying to be a positive piece added onto it. “The sky’s the limit here, so we’ve just got to put it together. We look good on paper but I think we’ve got to put the work in and put it on the court.”
The Thunder also picked up backup center Nazr Mohammed from Charlotte for forward D.J. White and guard Morris Peterson, two reserves who rarely played.
General manager Sam Presti said it’s still too soon to call Oklahoma City, which lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of last year’s playoffs, a “perfect puzzle” but he sees Perkins as an important addition hopefully for years to come.
“Basketball is incredibly important to him and team is incredibly important to him,” Presti said. “He is a no-frills
competitor. He is a guy that takes his job seriously. He does incredible work.”
Known for a menacing scowl that reflects his tough-guy demeanor in the lane, Perkins said one task in getting to know his new teammates is “showing them that I’m not this mean guy that they think I am.”
“I won’t call myself a soft teddy bear because it might mess up my image,” he said, “but I am a great guy.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)