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Battle-Tested Kendrick Perkins Brings Toughness, Experience to Cavs Locker Room

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2015

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Slowly but surely, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been working their way through their championship checklist. Battle-scarred veteran Kendrick Perkins might be the final piece of that puzzle.

The Cavs already filled their star quota with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Timofey Mozgov brought a badly needed interior presence, J.R. Smith delivered a missing catch-and-shoot stroke and Iman Shumpert helped plug the leaks on their defensive perimeter.

On the court, Cleveland appeared to have strengthened itself as much as it could. But question marks remained in the intangibles department for a team light on both playoff experience and nastiness.

The 30-year-old Perkins is equipped to scratch each of those itches.

After finalizing his buyout with the Utah Jazz, Perkins committed to signing with Cleveland on Saturday, as ESPN.com's Royce Young first reported. Shortly after that announcement, Perkins hit Twitter to discuss the move himself:

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James also chimed in on Cleveland's newest addition:

On the surface, this doesn't come off as a major-impact acquisition.

Perkins holds career per-game marks of only 5.6 points and 6.0 rebounds. In 51 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, those numbers were only 4.0 and 5.5, respectively.

However, the 6'10", 280-pound bruiser has never been defined by the box score. His best work is done behind the scenes, invigorating his team with tenacity and all types of toughness.

"He’ll run through a wall for you," former teammate Reggie Jackson said, per NBC Sports' Dan Feldman. "If he feels you’re genuine, you’re a great teammate, there’s no ends Perk that will go to make sure, to make you feel wanted."

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 8: Kendrick Perkins #5 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game against the Sacramento Kings on April 8, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
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When Kevin Durant collected last season's MVP award, he called Perkins "one of the best teammates I've ever had.

"The late-night calls after tough games, you texting me, telling me I'm the MVP," Durant said during his acceptance speech, "that means a lot to me, man."

Perkins' words have substance to them.

He might own an underwhelming 11.0 career player efficiency rating—well below the league average of 15.0—but he's also participated in 135 playoff games. He was the starting center of the Boston Celtics' 2008 NBA championship team.

Perkins has experienced things on the hardwood a lot of his new teammates have only dreamed about. Both Irving and Love are still waiting for their first taste of playoff basketball.

Before Perkins joined the Thunder, OKC had an exciting young core with one playoff appearance and zero postseason series wins on its resume. After picking up Perkins at the 2010-11 trade deadline, the franchise made its first Western Conference Finals appearance since the then-Seattle SuperSonics lost in the 1996 NBA Finals.

With Perkins patrolling the paint, the Thunder racked up eight playoff-series triumphs during the last four years. Some might chalk up that success to the elite-level players surrounding him, but those inside the organization didn't see it that way.

"It is important that we all thank Kendrick Perkins for his contributions to the organization," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in an official release. "He had a direct impact on the trajectory of our team and helped us grow immeasurably in ways that will be felt years to come."

And Presti wasn't the only one who stressed the importance of Perkins' contributions.

"Perk ... gave the Thunder a toughness that it never had before," wrote Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman. "He transformed the Thunder that season and every season since."

Dec 29, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) is congratulated by Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) in action against the Houston Rockets during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Ma
USA TODAY Sports

Perkins can provide that same spark in Cleveland.

The Cavs feature so many guys with something to prove.

James is back home and carrying the weight of his community on his shoulders. Irving and Love are out to show the basketball world they can perform under the brightest lights. Smith has a reputation to repair after being blamed for so many of the New York Knicks' stumbles in recent seasons. Shumpert and Tristan Thompson both have money to make with restricted free agency awaiting them at season's end.

Perkins can show his new teammates that despite having different driving forces, they can all still reach the same destination.

"He's always about the team," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Perkins in 2012, per Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe. "You can never have enough guys like that."

Perkins comes to Cleveland with some pretty severe limitations in his game.

He's never been a steady offensive contributor, and his problems at that end are getting worse. A career 53.0 percent shooter from the field, he has converted only 45.1 percent of his field-goal attempts since the start of 2012-13. His defense is still solid, but it's no longer anything above that. He ranks 18th among centers in ESPN.com's defensive real plus-minus.

But this move wasn't made for his on-court impact. Unless the injury bug attacks the Cavs frontcourt, Perkins won't be penciled into anything more than a part-time role.

"He will ... serve as an insurance policy for the Cavs, who have flourished in recent weeks using a three-man rotation of Mozgov, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson at power forward and center," wrote Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. "That seems unlikely to change for now."

Barring any health problems, the Cavs have their frontcourt rotation set.

Love provides the most scoring, rebounding and floor spacing. Mozgov protects the paint. Thompson is the change-of-pace, high-motor hustler.

Cleveland has won 15 of its last 17 games. It won't do anything dramatic that might disrupt this rhythm.

But even analysts who know how rarely Perkins might be used like the addition. Both Lloyd and ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan see Perkins as the perfect fit in the Forest City:

The Cavs already gave their roster the attention it needed inside the lines. Perkins' presence will be felt long before the team takes the floor.

He is a welcome source of toughness, experience and accountability. He has helped transform talented teams into title contenders before, and he might be positioned to pull it off once more.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.