WALTHAM, Mass. - Kendrick Perkins isn't happy about missing tonight's Opening Night vs. the Miami Heat, and sitting out Game 7 of the NBA Finals clearly still stings, but despite all of that, the Celtics center remains upbeat.
By all accounts, especially his own, Perk is ahead of schedule, looking trim and excited for the season to start even if he won't be taking the court until sometime in 2011.
"I'm glad this season is getting started," Perkins said at Saturday's practice. "We've got us a nice matchup on Tuesday. Our first month is tougher than people think it is, and even though we're not the champs, I think we've still got a target on our back."
The target may be on the Celtics' collective back, but the focus for the Celtics big man is squarely on his right knee, as he continues to rehab and aim for a return to the lineup this winter. Perkins tore his ACL during rebounding action under the hoop in the early stages of Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles. The injury cost the Celtics center an appearance in Game 7 and may very well have cost the Celtics Banner 18.
Thankfully, Perkins already has perspective on missing the beginning of this season.
"It's gonna be hard, but at the same time, no situation was worse than sitting out Game 7. It could always be worse," Perkins said. "I'm only 25 so I feel like I've got 7-8 more years (to play in the NBA)."
While original prognostications called for a possible return around the All-Star Break, Perkins is feeling great, and hence, he's conflicted. He physically feels great, and he's always happy to be around his teammates, yet still frustrated to be confined to the sidelines and feels like he could do more to contribute.
"It's hard just watching when you wanna be a part of it. But at the same time you're around a great group of guys, all for one goal," Perkins said, noting that the rehab process is not only making him stronger physically, but also mentally. Still, the urge to bring more to the table is clearly pestering him. To close out Saturday's practice, Perkins was drawing up plays for the reserves, but his clipboard work didn't pan out, and Perk blamed his teammates for a lack of execution before admitting, "No bigs draw up good plays."
And even while Perkins is a guy who's rarely had a play drawn up for him, his value on the floor, especially on the defensive end, can't be understated. His teammates are well aware of what Perk brings to the table, and they say he's still making an impact even if he can't yet step between the lines.
"He's definitely in the gym, and he's talking a lot more trash lately," said Kevin Garnett. "So I can't wait until he gets his big ass out here."
Shaquille O'Neal, who's had plenty of physical battles with Perkins on the block when they were opponents, said that Perkins has welcomed him with "open arms."
"He's a great part of this team's success; he's getting healthy and I know we're looking forward to getting him back," O'Neal said. "I know we've got a big frontline, a lot of big players, and we're looking to rough a lot of people up."
Perkins appears to be chomping at the bit to get back on the floor. For now, court work consists of taking turnaround hook shots with assistant coaches after practice and killing it in the weight room while his teammates are banging bodies up and down the practice court.
"You get to the point where you wanna earn your check. So sitting on the sidelines, I always think I can do more," Perkins said.
Like Tom Petty always says, the waiting is the hardest part.
"The rehab part of it is not hard, as far as getting stronger in your legs and making sure your knee is right. It's just the waiting process is the pain of it, having to wait a while when you think you could go," Perkins said. "I think that's what takes all of the fun out of it."
Um, let's back up Perk. Are you saying you could be out there right now?
"I do feel like I could be out there. Honestly. I feel like I could go through drills and a lot of things, but at the same time you've got to be smart," Perkins said.
Nearby, Dr. Brian McKeon, the team's physician who repaired Perkins' knee this offseason, said he was really pleased with the center's progress, but Perkins is certainly not going to let his anxiousness to return to the lineup compromise his rehabilitation.
"I feel great. But like the doctor said, you're going to feel better than what you are," Perkins said. "So you've just got to give the knee, the tissues, time to heal."
Maybe the waiting really is the hardest part.