My attention was taken by Kevin Durant zipping all the way across the court on his scooter to a crew from CBS News waiting to interview him about Russell Westbrook’s love for fashion. As he straddled the scooter ready to start the interview, Scott Brooks called the entire team back to center court for a quick word. The team broke and headed back into a meeting room. And bringing up the rear was Reggie Jackson, being helped by two teammates, and not putting any weight on his right foot.
Actually, double uh oh.
“We had a couple of injuries, but other than that things were good today,” Scott Brooks said. “Reggie twisted his ankle and Jeremy hurt his back.”
Yeah, other than two more injuries, meaning the Thunder may have only nine available players on opening night Wednesday in Portland, things are GREAT.
“Never seen anything like it,” Brooks said. “But like I say all along, it’s part of the game. It’s things you can’t control. The only things you can control is to continue to prepare on how we play and that’s what we do. Injuries are part of it and we’ll see how those two feel tomorrow, but right now we don’t know.”
There’s a massive air of uncertainty around the Thunder right now, most notably how they’ll play without Durant. The other is simply who will be playing. Brooks said he “pretty much knows” who his starting five will be, but didn’t want to commit on Monday because of the unknowns with health. The biggest question is if that starting five might include Kendrick Perkins, a stalwart of the group the last four seasons.
Perkins has missed basically the entire preseason because of a quad strain, which has allowed Steven Adams to start in all seven exhibition games. Seven starts that Adams has looked fantastic in as well. It’s pretty clear as to who should start, but it’s uncertain as to who will.
For his part, Perkins understands the situation and isn’t afraid to talk about it. Knowing us writers were angling for a non-awkward way of asking it, he just did it himself.
“I don’t know how the playing time is going to be, whether I’m starting or coming off the bench,” Perkins said. “To me it really don’t even matter. I just want an opportunity to play and that’s it. Because I know that question was coming next, about starting. And I really don’t care about that. I just want an opportunity, really. Since I’ve been here only thing I’ve been trying to embrace on the whole organization and the young guys is how to win. So since I’ve been here, that’s all we’ve been doing, is winning. And whether I’m coming off the bench or if I’m starting, it really don’t matter. I just want an opportunity to play and help the team win.”
Perkins has obviously been a staple in terms of locker room leadership and has indeed been a fixture in the Thunder’s leap from young-up-and-comers to legit contenders. But his skills have noticeably disintegrated as he’s become an easy target for critics. Perkins does indeed do some good things still — rewatch the Memphis series — but increasingly his negatives outweigh the positives, particularly as the game changes from being less post-centric.
What Perkins still attempts to add, is a greater perspective. But being a player that has an ego and takes a lot of pride in being a former champion, it’s a bit uncomfortable to figure out if Brooks can sit him without it escalating into an issue. Perk is in a contract year, so he wants and needs to play to audition for a new deal. Yet, Brooks has to play the best player. It’s a tricky place for all involved.
Except Perkins is the kind of player that is very good at talking the talk. He says the right things about sacrifice and role playing, so when it comes to his position, he’s fine with whatever. Something he does want though? More responsibility when it matters.
“I started all the games last year that I played in and didn’t play in nearly as much of the fourth quarters as I wanted to play in,” he said. “So that really was my goal coming in to this year was, I want to give coach a reason he should have me in, in the fourth. I started last year and a lot of games, I was unhappy because I didn’t play the fourth quarter, probably because I didn’t deserve to play. So I want to give him a reason why I should play in the fourth.”
Perkins is in terrific shape — really, he looks great physically — and with the motivation of wanting another long term deal, he may be ready to produce a decent season. Still, Adams is the future of the position in Oklahoma City and what counts most is the scoreboard at the end. Brooks has a decision to make and while it appears to be an easy one, we’ll just have to wait until Wednesday to see what it is.