No doubt about it, Kendrick Perkins has had a busy off-season. The Oklahoma City center set his mind to getting in better shape since his Thunder were bounced in the 2011 NBA Western Conference Finals by eventual league champion Dallas.
And during the Thunder's visit to American Airlines Center on Sunday night to face those same Mavericks in the preseason opener for both clubs, getting a first look at the slimmer Perkins, who has dropped some 32 pounds since the end of last season, was a bit jarring, at least at first.
The big fella who is still only 27 but is entering his 10th year in the NBA has definitely put the work in and now the Nederland, Texas native is ready to reap the dividends of his extensive lifestyle change over the summer and the Thunder are also ready to see those payoffs.
Perkins, the 27th overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, came over from Boston in February in a deal that sent Jeff Green to the Celtics. He hadn't played much with the Celts last year as he was getting over some knee issues that clearly limited his effectiveness with both teams he suited up for last year.
OKC head coach Scott Brooks isn't at all surprised by how much weight his starting center has dropped since the end of last season and he and his staff are excited about the contributions he should make in the paint for their club going forward.
"We knew that he would lose the weight. He's a hard worker. He came off an ACL injury and then he had another injury when he was traded from Boston last February but structurally he's fine. We knew back then the rust was still on his body. He wasn't able to do the things he could normally do during a season. But he's ready," Brooks said. "He's playing. He came back in terrific shape. He's got great energy. We are excited what he brings. He brings toughness and he brings leadership. We're looking forward to the season."
The 6-foot-10 big man has quite a presence on the court, often manning the paint with quite the ferocious demeanor, a big plus for OKC and a big negative for anyone unfortunate enough to go against him inside.
But off the court, Perkins is humble and even somewhat soft spoken. While he takes great pride in how much weight he's lost, he knows the hard work of a 66-game regular season is only beginning for him and his teammates.
"It's just paying off. I say hard work always pays off and it did. I just want to keep working from there, keep maintaining and just keep going from there so try to get better every day," he said.
Teammate James Harden, who is almost as famous for his righteous beard as he is for the countless big shots he pours in off the bench for the Thunder, admits he is more than a little impressed with Perk's hard work during the off-season."He looks good, doesn't he? His body looks good. He's in shape and ready," Harden said.
A product of Ozen HS in Beaumont, Texas, the OKC big man now calls Houston home in the off-season and that was where he worked with a team of people once the season was over in order to see the results everyone is raving about now.
"You've just got to sacrifice. You've got to watch your diet. You can't really eat what you want to eat on a daily basis. That was the toughest thing," Perkins admits. "It took about a month before it became second nature to me and then you kind of start looking at things like you don't want to eat it."
So, now that he's completely healthy and much slimmer, he can focus on giving the Thunder something they sorely need, a strong presence inside the paint who can not only get rebounds and score occasionally, but also someone who can block shots and make life tough on any member of the opposition who decides to venture inside against him.
Perkins has only been a member of the Thunder for about 10 months, but one thing he likes is the fact that there hasn't been much turnover in terms of personnel since he arrived from Beantown back in February.
"I'm just glad we get to start off a full season together. I think that's the key thing, we get to start off together. I wanted to be healthy and be 100 percent, so I'm really looking forward to playing with my guys this year," he said. "I know we're all looking forward to playing with each other. We're just going to take it one day at a time and one game at a time and move forward from there."
OKC is already considered a top contender for the 2012 NBA title. Having a slimmer and injury-free Kendrick Perkins at center can only make their chances of making another long run in the playoffs go up exponentially.