Perkins picked Cavs for LeBron

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Newly-acquired Kendrick Perkins suited up for the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time on Tuesday against the Detroit Pistons.

But before he slipped on his new No. 3 uniform the center explained how his decision where to continue his career came down to either joining his former coach, Doc Rivers, and the Los Angeles Clippers, or joining his former AAU teammate, LeBron James.

"It was extremely hard," said Perkins who finalized his contract with Cleveland earlier in the day after agreeing to a buyout from the Utah Jazz on Monday. "(Rivers) was real honest with me, he told me, 'I think your best two situations right now is either us or Cleveland.' So I was like, Doc? Or I have a chance to go play with The King. Doc? The King? Uh, I choose The King."

James and Perkins teamed up in high school for the Oakland (Calif.) Soldiers AAU squad before having several postseason battles in the pros.

"He just said, 'Let's make this happen. Been a long time coming,'" Perkins said, summing up James' pitch to come to Cleveland. "He's right. I've been wanting to be on the same team with him for awhile."

Knowing the interest around the league for the 12-year veteran's services, who won a championship with Rivers and the Boston Celtics back in 2008, Cavs coach David Blatt was pleased his team landed the big man.

"They all understand what he brings to the table and because it was his decision to come to us that's a good feeling," Blatt said.

Count Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy among those impressed by the 6-10, 270-pound Perkins' abilities.

"I've always had great respect for Kendrick," said Van Gundy. "He adds a real toughness. He's one of the toughest big guys in the league. Very physical. He's a great, great low-post defender and he's one of the best screeners in the league. I mean, he'll lay you out on screens so a guy like J.R. Smith coming off screens will love having Kendrick Perkins around. And obviously what he does for them, he gives them really good, quality depth up front. Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson have been playing really well and this gives them another guy."

Perkins played two minutes in the 102-93 win over the Pistons, cracking the rotation after Mozgov picked up three first-half fouls. He finished with two points, two fouls and a turnover.

"I just was being encouraging," Perkins said of the role he played in his debut. "I really didn't expect to get in for the two minutes that I did. That caught me by surprise. But I'm just happy to be here, man. So I'm just going to keep working, learning the system and whenever my time it is to be called I'm going to be ready to play and just be a great teammate."

Blatt was quick to add that Perkins isn't just a back-up behind Mozgov, Thompson and Kevin Love in case one of the three gets injured.

"I don't want to call Perk an insurance policy," Blatt said. "He's a guy that can really contribute. If you look at our team one of the areas that you would address if you were thinking, 'OK how can we get a little better at this stage of the year,' that's one of the things you would put your finger on is the fact that we could use one more player with size and experience that can give us physicality and great defense and presence."

Perkins agreed to a $434,547 deal with the Cavs, which will include a salary-cap number of $274,573, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

While Perkins admitted that James factored into his thought process, he had also been monitoring how the Cavs were playing as a team and was encouraged by the group he would be joining.

"I looked at Cleveland and said, 'Man they play great basketball,'" Perkins said. "I wasn't just looking at the offensive end; I was looking at the little things. Passing up good shots for great shots, on the defensive end you see guys helping the helper, see guys being at the nail, guys coming out (to help on) pick-and-roll (coverage), guys bumping early. Communication was there. I said, 'Man, that team is on a mission.' You can tell they're playing agenda-free basketball, trying to get the win and get better. I just wanted to be part of it."

Perkins' five seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder came to a close when he was traded to the Jazz at the trade deadline in a three-team deal that sent guard Reggie Jackson to Detroit and Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin to the Thunder.

"We developed a family over there," Perkins said. "When I first came in to OKC, Kevin (Durant) and Russ (Russell Westbrook) was young guys and even Serge (Ibaka). I just wanted to pass on some of the things I'd learned coming from Boston. I think I did that. Those guys grew up and I think they're ready to lead, Russ especially. So I did my job. We had some great years there, a lot of battles. And OKC will always be my family."

James is certainly pleased that Perkins is now a part of the Cavs' family instead of out of it.

"I've been a competitor against him and he's a guy that you hate if you play against him and it's a guy that you love if he's your teammate," James said. "I know a lot of teams don't like me, but that's fine," Perkins said when informed about James' love/hate comment. "I'm a good guy if I'm on your team. Other than that, that's fine. I feel like if another team don't like me, then I done my job for the night."

One of those players who didn't particularly like Perkins was Mozgov, who got tangled up with him on several occasions in the Cavs' 108-98 win over Oklahoma City on Jan. 25.

Mozgov greeted Perkins' in the locker room in Detroit before the game with a handshake and a hug. Perkins shrugged off their last meeting, saying, "Wasn't nothing but a little elbow." Mozgov added: "Now he's my teammate, so we will stand up for each other like everybody in the room. ... Of course, he's going to help us. No question."

Plus, it's not like Mozgov was the only player Perkins has gotten physical with in the past.

"I would say with Perk, it has gotten chippy on a few occasions, not just with Timo or anyone else," Blatt said. "He's a physical presence and force and he stands up for his team."

Perkins is the seventh member of the heralded 2003 NBA Draft class to team up with James, joining Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Sasha Pavlovic, Jason Kapono, Maurice Williams and James Jones.

"We had a great class in that draft and we all understand how important it is to live up to our expectations or even try to exceed it, being a part of that draft," James said. "We want to go down as one of the greatest NBA drafts ever. So it's pretty cool to be able to team up with guys that have been in your draft and I've been blessed enough to team up with quite a few."