Kendrick Perkins is an odd dude. An odd, edgy, tough, intense, relentless dude. And I think the Clippers could really use someone like him. Not necessarily Perkins himself or even another frontcourt player. Just someone with a similar temperament.
The thought came to me after reading a blog post by The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry. Though in a roundabout way, I must admit.
When I saw what Perkins told Mayberry about technical fouls, my first reaction was to chuckle. At the time, Perkins had picked up five techs in just 12 games in a Thunder uniform. Here are a few excerpts from Mayberry's post, with Perkins discussing his propensity for what most consider one of the worst violations in the game:
"It's times that you can get a good tech. You set the tone every now and then."
"I try to pick and choose. Sometimes it may look like I'm attacking the ref or swearing or cursing at a ref but I'm not. Sometimes I'm just telling him to get his head in the game or something to that nature."
"As I got older, I developed good relationships with the guys so they know how I am and they have a higher tolerance for me. And I know how to approach them. I just pick and choose. Some days I try to get a tech. Other days, I just mess with them every now and then."
Now I understood what Perkins was trying to say, but originally, I just couldn't get over the fact that he actually said it. Drawing a technical foul can be good? Last time I checked, that means the other team gets a free shot at the line, plus you're one tech away from an ejection. Neither of those are good things.
And how's this for "setting the tone?" In the five games that Perkins has received a technical foul as a member of the Thunder, Oklahoma City is 3-2. So far, the Thunder are 10-3 in games their new center has played, which would seem to suggest, small sample size aside, that a Perkins tech hasn't exactly been the key to victory.
Speaking of which, one of those losses came against the Clippers last Saturday. In that episode, Perkins was hit with the first tech of the game midway through the third quarter when, after being stripped by Craig Smith on a layup attempt, he voiced his disagreement with the subsequent no-call. That was followed by four more technical fouls by the Thunder over the rest of the quarter, and the Clippers capitalized on all the commotion by going on a 9-2 run, cutting a 14-point halftime deficit to a single possession and eventually winning the game, 98-92.
So Perkins, whether he had intentionally tried to get a technical foul or not -- my guess is no, since he acted in the heat of the moment after a no-call -- actually ended up adding more fuel to the Clippers' comeback engine, which had faced a 16-point hole earlier in the game.
And as for those four other instances in which Perkins has collected a tech with Oklahoma City, only one had any discernibly positive effect for his team. That would be the double technical called on Perkins and Nene just before the end of the second quarter in Tuesday's Thunder-Nuggets game. Not only did the run-in prove Perkins had ruffled Nene's psuedo-dreads (what do you call that haircut, by the way?), he apparently stayed in the Denver big man's head the rest of the game, as Nene shot just 2-for-5 from the field and 1-for-4 from the free-throw line in the second half and the Thunder got a big 101-94 win on the road.
Other than that, Perkins' techs haven't seemed to do his team much good. When Perkins got a T against the Jazz (also at the end of the second quarter; a trend, perhaps?), Utah took the lead by scoring the next seven points. The Thunder would go on to win the game handily, but it was at home and against a mediocre team, and I don't think Perkins' technical foul had much to do with the W. Meanwhile, both of Perk's other techs - one against the Raptors and the other against the Blazers - immediately preceded mini-runs by the other team. (The Thunder beat Portland and lost to Toronto.)
But what Perkins did in that Denver game in mucking things up and riling Nene? That's exactly what the Clippers need.
As currently composed, the Clippers roster doesn't have an instigator of Perkins' caliber. Yes, Blake Griffin bothers opponents with all that non-stop energy and dunking, but he's not out there to intentionally piss people off. Neither is Eric Gordon. Or even DeAndre Jordan, who's known to show plenty of emotion on the court. Or any other Clipper, for that matter. They're all nice guys, and we like them because of it.
Perkins? He's out there to piss people off, and while that's what makes him so disliked by fans of other teams, it's the same quality that I'm sure the Thunder are growing to appreciate. If you have a guy on your team who can truly get into opponents' heads, as Perkins did to Nene, that only adds value to what he already does in pure basketball terms.
Perkins, on top of that, knows when to pick his spots with refs, or at least he says he does. I've seen him pick up plenty of dumb technical fouls, so I'm skeptical. At the same time, though, Perkins has been in the league for a while, and I'm sure he's a little more judicious in the matter of when/when not to chirp at the officials than either Griffin or Gordon, the Clippers' two biggest in-game complainers. It's one thing to gripe about every call or no-call. It's another to know when to say your piece and when to simply use a playful reminder.
And as mentioned earlier, Perkins really knows how to mess with whomever he's going against. Granted, some may think he's a fake tough guy, but I think that's more out of annoyance than true dismissal. There's a reason Perkins has developed a reputation as an enforcer. Sometimes his shtick works, and sometimes it doesn't, but judging from the Thunder's returns so far, I'm inclined to say he's successful more often than not.
I will, however, disagree that a technical foul can be a good technical foul. Perkins may think a well-placed tech can "set the tone," but there's the very real risk of losing momentum or lighting a spark under the other team. Plus, as we all know, technical fouls don't come cheap these days.
But there are other ways to leave your own imprint on a game beyond scoring, rebounding and all the more graceful stuff. When he's not picking up techs, Perkins does it and so do certain other players around the league. Here's another excerpt from Mayberry's post:
Most of Perkins' five technical fouls in a Thunder uniform have come from altercations with opposing players. Jawing. Pushing. Stare downs. That sort of stuff. But Perkins doesn't think techs of that variety are a problem. In those situations, Perkins said he's intentionally pushing other players' buttons. He's playing the role of the schoolyard bully, testing and taunting his competition to see how far they'll allow him to go.
As Perkins said, if he pushes and is not pushed back he knows he has the upper hand. If he barks and his man backs down, he know he's won the game within the game.
I'm not going to go into naming all of the upcoming free agents who could potentially fill that role for the Clippers -- that's a task for another day -- but ideally, it'd be a small forward. A heady perimeter player who can shoot, defend, hustle all over the place and generally make life miserable for the other team -- create controlled chaos, if you will. For all we know, there might not be someone out there who could step in and do the dirty work half as well as Perkins does at his position.
Perhaps the Clippers' best bet is to develop a calculated troublemaker from among their own ranks, but I just don't see that happening. Griffin and Gordon certainly don't fit the bill, and you don't want your best players getting dirty and risking cheap fouls, anyway. The thing is, I can't think of anyone else on the team for the job. The Clippers would have to find another way, it seems.
I hope they try, at the very least. Almost every good team in the league has at least one player like Perkins, someone who doesn't shy away from deliberately mixing it up. The Lakers have Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes. The Celtics have Kevin Garnett. They used to have Perkins, too, and we can all see they've lost a certain edge since he's been gone. The Bulls have Joakim Noah. Even the seemingly innocent Spurs have Manu Ginobili to kick up the dirt every now and then.
If the Clippers want to reach that level, they'll need their own.