Why Haven't OKC Thunder Amnestied Kendrick Perkins Yet?

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 7: Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 7, 2013 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

If you judge Kendrick Perkins by the numbers, you're looking in the wrong place. He's never been a dominant offensive force, nor even a force with whom to reckon on the glass. For that matter, he's never averaged 30 or more minutes per game.

So how is he still a starting center for a championship-caliber team?

That question has become all the more difficult for the Oklahoma City Thunder to answer in light of Perkins' latest run-in with the law—and, according to KHOU.com, a couple of faces outside a Houston nightclub (allegedly anyway). 

One of those faces belongs to Ja’Keenan Cotton and the other to his sister Miketta Cotton. According to KHOU, "the case was initially dismissed, but Perkins and [his brother-in-law] Alpough were charged when it was re-filed."

After facing eventually dropped charges for similar shenanigans in 2011, Perkins has made something of a reputation for himself. And thanks to his wife's caught-on-video raging at a nail salon, he has some company.

Passion and intensity are virtues in any competitive forum, but has the off-court spillover finally outweighed the on-court benefits?

Those benefits are, after all, the principal reasons OKC's been able to overlook Perkins' limited production. What he lacks in conventional contributions, he's made up for with the kind of fire that leads teams to titles. That may ruffle the zenner-than-thou sensibilities of Phil Jackson disciples, but we'd do well to remember Jackson wouldn't have gotten far without the no-nonsense fight that guys like MJ and Kobe brought to the table.

Sure, they managed to keep it together during their summers off, and there's obviously no point in drawing too many comparisons between them and Perkins.

But the point remains that OKC never wanted Perk for his manners. His 2011 arrival was all about infusing some hard-edged leadership into a young roster, ensuring once and for all the Thunder would never be labeled soft.

Despite Kevin Durant's emergence last season as a technical-foul-collecting bad boy, there's still no question he's a fundamentally even-keeled operator. For all Russell Westbrook's excitability, he's more about theatrics than setting the uncompromising tone Oklahoma City needed.

Perkins is the enforcer, the guy no one wants to see in the paint—or outside a night club.

That's not an excuse for his behavior, but it goes a long way in explaining why general manager Sam Presti closed the door on an early exit back in May (per The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry): 

We just haven't considered using the provision. I wouldn't necessarily directly attribute that to any player on our team. Every team looks at the amnesty provision different based on their different circumstances. But it's not something that we've really explored.

Of course, that was before the latest incident.

While Oklahoma City is holding off on commenting while the organization continues "gathering more information," Perk's attorney Matt Hennessy is unequivocal in his client's defense, according to Mayberry:

Kendrick Perkins did nothing wrong, and I am confident that he will be exonerated. My client takes these charges very seriously. He is a respectful and kind person and is anxious to address these charges for the sake of his family and his team. We will defend these allegations vigorously in court.

Guilty or not, it's hard to imagine the Thunder changing course at this point.

Perkins remains a costly—if not straight-up overpaid—investment. He's owed $8.7 million this season and another $9.4 million for the 2013-14 season. Nevertheless, he also remains quite possibly the worst indispensable player in the league. If making history last season with the worst playoff player efficiency rating ever wasn't enough to change the franchise's thinking, it's hard to imagine what would.

On the one hand, loyalty like that is admirable. You can't fault OKC for being fickle.

But there's an unmistakable element of pragmatism involved, too. Besides the need for Perkins' edge, the Thunder have an even greater need for the 270 pounds he brings to the paint.

Bigs like Hasheem Thabeet and rookie Steven Adams are still too raw to deploy on a full-time basis. Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison are too valuable at the 4. And nobody on this roster defends guys with their back to the basket like Perkins.

Even if Presti's commitment to Perkins wanes between now and the start of 2014-15, it's more likely his expiring contract will be paired with some of the team's young talent in a trade package before it comes to an amnesty scenario.

Maybe it's too soon to officially dismiss the possibility of a surprise reversal of course, but all signs point toward the status quo for now. Much as OKC could stand to save some money, they need some heart even more.