Perk rebounding after 'emotional' trade

Like most of us, Kendrick Perkins never saw it coming.

Three weeks ago, he was a Boston Celtic, going through the morning shootaround at the Pepsi Center in Denver. There was a game that night against the Nuggets, although the injured Perkins was going to be a spectator, having injured his knee two nights earlier at Golden State.

Perkins, of course, never made it back to the Pepsi Center for the game that night. After the shootaround, his agent, Bob Myers, called and told him of the possibility of a deal. Perkins had no clue.

"I was pretty surprised,'' Perkins told ESPNBoston.com via telephone. "I had no idea. I talked to Doc [Rivers] and he said he wasn't pushing it, that he was trying to stop it."

Rivers said he did stop it. That was Perkins Deal No. 1, according to the coach.

"At the time I talked to him, it was a different deal and I did put a stop to that one. But I also told him that something might still happen,'' Rivers said.

Soon, Perkins Deal No. 2 came along and Rivers then had to say goodbye to a player he had, he said, come to regard as a son.

"It was the most difficult thing I have had to do since I've been in the league,'' Rivers said. "It was like sending one of your kids [away]. It can be very hard to separate the basketball from the personal and this one was definitely that for me. Perk had great spirit. He had the intangibles you look for. We all decided to make the trade, but, for me, it hurt. It hurt a lot."

By the time the Feb. 24 trade of Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder was announced, the former Celtics center was in the process of walking the corridors of the Four Seasons, banging on doors, commiserating with his now ex-teammates. It was, he said, one of the harder days for him as well. He had been a Celtic since 2003.

"That was really tough. I had to say my goodbyes. It was pretty emotional,'' he said. "But then you realize pretty quickly that it's a business and there ain't no love lost. I know that now.

"At the end of the day, you never know what's going to happen, especially when you're in a contract year,'' Perkins went on, referencing his situation as a free agent after this season. "It may have been that. It may have been my injuries. I don't know. I'm just glad I got sent to another great situation."

Perkins did not suit up for his new team until last Monday and, already, he is a YouTube victim of a vicious Dwyane Wade dunk, although the Thunder got the last laugh in beating Miami on Wednesday night. In just 19 minutes a game, he is averaging five points and seven rebounds for the Thunder.

Perkins is a certified workaholic. He is an NBA rarity -- a role player comfortable in his own skin. He battled back to get on the floor this season after blowing out his knee seven months before in the NBA Finals. Isn't that what made the deal so hard for Perkins and his legion of fans to understand?

Everyone likes Perk -- and a lot of fans were not happy with the trade.

"It was overwhelming when I heard about [all the fan reaction],'' Perkins said. "It was surprising to me to see that. I think they appreciated what I did. I just think it [the trade] was something they felt they had to do. I know they didn't want to make the deal."

The Celtics saw a chance to get two players going forward for the price of, basically, one. (Nate Robinson was not in their plans.) They feel they've improved the team both now and down the road (but they do have to re-sign Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green.)

They weren't sure Perkins wouldn't get the money he wanted on the open market, whatever that market might be after a new collective bargaining agreement is signed. Then they'd lose him and get nothing in return. There also was the issue with the injuries. And yet ... it was Perk.

Never mind that the Celtics were 33-10 this season when Perkins was on the shelf. Or that he averaged less than 30 minutes a game. Or that he rarely was on the floor at the end of games.

He was one of only two Celtics who could talk about the days of Jim O'Brien and John Carroll. He came to embody the new Celtic, one of toughness, sacrifice and loyalty. Or so he thought.

But on Feb. 24, he learned a hard lesson in NBA 101 -- that almost everyone is expendable. Yes, he could have avoided that by re-signing with the Celtics but felt, probably justifiably, that he was being sold short.

(The Celtics offered what they could at the time -- $22 million over four years -- which was substantially less than the $35 million over four years he ended up getting from Oklahoma City, which had more financial flexibility.)

Perkins stayed at the Four Seasons in Denver overnight and, the following morning, took a flight to Oklahoma City while the Celtics went on to Los Angeles. He is still getting settled in his new city, living in a hotel, looking for a house. He is excited about the Thunder, as he should be; OKC is 7-1 this month. The Thunder are an up-and-coming team. Oklahoma City is a lot closer to home (Texas) and the situation is a lot better than Cleveland or Minnesota.

He said he still talks all the time with Rajon Rondo, perhaps his closest friend on the Celtics, as well as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

"The trade didn't do anything to those relationships. We're still homies, so it's cool," Perkins said.

But it is going to take a while to get accustomed to seeing Perkins in the blue, orange and white of the Thunder. At least his Boston fans won't have to see that this season. Oklahoma City has already passed through.

"Obviously, I am going to miss Boston a lot,'' he said. "I talked to Danny [Ainge] on the phone the day the deal was done. It was hard for both of us. We go back a long way. But I understand that this is the business part of it.

"I look back and I have to be pleased with everything they did for me, from bringing me there from high school. I am grateful for all the experiences, to be able to be a part of a championship team. It was all great. No complaints. I was blessed to be there for eight years."

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.