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Pivotal season for center

Perkins working hard to improve defense

KENDRICK PERKINS Complementary role KENDRICK PERKINS Complementary role

Between now and the start of training camp in six weeks, Kendrick Perkins hopes the Celtics' coaching staff pushes him to extremes. He wants to be run ragged, past the point of exhaustion in offensive and defensive drills. When he joins Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo in the starting five this season, the 6-foot-10-inch Perkins wants to be in the best shape of his career.

"Each day I can come in here and a coach can kill me and make me throw up after my workout, that's what I want," said Perkins, who has dropped 20 pounds and is 10 shy of his desired playing weight of 260. "If you do that all the way through the month of September, everything else is going to be easy."

After working out recently at the Celtics' practice facility in Waltham, Perkins, 22, sounded almost giddy about the upcoming season. He shares the same high expectations as fans, believing the Celtics can make a run to the NBA Finals. He understands that if the Celtics disappoint this season, his talent may be questioned more than others.

"I know if I don't take advantage of this opportunity, people are going to be saying, 'They need another center,' " said Perkins. "If Rondo doesn't take advantage of it, then we're a point guard away from a championship. Paul, K.G., and Ray have enough on their shoulders. They don't have to carry me, Rondo, and T.A. [Tony Allen]. The only thing they should be carrying along is rookies. This is my fifth year. I've got to grow up."

With the birth of his first child expected in early September, Perkins has taken a more mature approach to his life and career, thinking long and hard about his priorities.

"It's kind of crazy right now," said Perkins. "The month of August and September, you really try to attack workouts hard as far as trying to kill yourself conditioning-wise, and you've got a baby on the way. But that only makes you stronger mentally, having to go through whatever you go through at home and then come in.

"I'm happy about my child coming, but on the other side of it, I know I've got a job. I know I've got goals and my team has goals that we're trying to accomplish this year.

"After we got Ray, I was like, 'OK, cool.' After we got The Ticket, I couldn't go a minute without thinking about how it's going to be. My mind's just thinking all about basketball."

While Perkins may sound slightly in awe of the newest Celtics, he feels comfortable with the prospect of playing beside them. He has designed some of his workouts to develop skills that will complement the trio.

In addition to making 15-footers, Perkins has practiced "finishing quick." He knows when he receives the ball around the basket from Garnett, Pierce, or Allen, he must make the most of his opportunities and score quickly. But he also understands that the Celtics care more about his defensive productivity, and that's the way it should be.

"[Defense] is what gives me playing time," said Perkins. "That's my role. I don't care if I shoot the ball one time. I've got Paul, Ray Allen, and KG on the court with me. If I go the whole game and have zero points and we win, I don't care. Why should I care? That's called selfish. If we're winning, everybody's going to get the same publicity and everything else. That all comes with losing yourself within the team.

"I want to win too much to care about anything else. I don't care about my stats. I don't care about how people view me as a basketball player. I just care about getting wins. Anything else is irrelevant to me. I don't care about somebody telling me to shoot the ball or do this more. I'm going to do what my team wants me to do. It's as simple as that."

While Perkins would be the first to admit to shortcomings on the court, his desire shows why he should work well with Garnett, Pierce, and Allen. With rebounding, shot blocking, and "giving up his body" on screens, he believes he'll enjoy playing a complementary role.

Celtics the talk of Rodeo Drive

Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills doesn't shut down for just anybody. But it did two weeks ago when Paul Pierce co-hosted the LA Stars Celebrity Charity All-Star weekend with Golden State guard Baron Davis and Washington guard Gilbert Arenas. The Saturday night street party featured a surprise performance by Stevie Wonder. But after three days of festivities, it was Jermaine O'Neal who made headlines for comments about wanting to leave the Pacers.

What might have prompted O'Neal to think differently about his situation? Maybe it was hanging out with Pierce in the afterglow of the Kevin Garnett deal. Spending offseasons in Los Angeles, Pierce and O'Neal have become close friends. They talked during the charity weekend about their respective teams. After all, it wasn't long ago that Pierce struggled with being the lone superstar on a team with young talent and contemplated asking for a trade.

"Jermaine is just like me," said Pierce. "He wants to be involved with a winner. He's not getting any younger, either, and his miles are piling up. That's rough. I didn't tell him he should go somewhere else, none of that, because he's going to make his own decisions in the end.

"People have got to understand for a ballplayer that's been playing so many years, made a lot of money, it's about winning a championship after so many years. That's the way Jermaine feels. He's felt the same way I've felt for the last couple years. He wants to be on a team that can win a championship.

"I feel for guys like him that are not getting the guys around them so they can at least have a shot at winning championships. He knows what that feels like. He's had a taste of being in the Eastern Conference finals. He knows what it tastes like to be that close, as do I."

At the charity event, Pierce had a chance to catch up with Jason Kidd, Ricky Davis, Antoine Walker, Tony Allen, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams, Cuttino Mobley, Derek Fisher, and Andre Miller.

So what do players around the league think about the Celtics now?

"The guys are happy for me," said Pierce. "They didn't see it coming. They didn't see K.G. coming to Boston, especially after they said he wasn't coming. Baron was really upset. He wanted Kevin in Golden State, but he was happy at the same time.

"Everybody's happy that now we have a chance to possibly win a championship."

Really? That sounds a little too charitable.

Atlantic Division talent is oceans apart from last season's

When it came to the Atlantic Division last season, the jokes were plentiful. And with good reason, especially early in the season. The Celtics started 1-6, the Raptors 2-8, the Sixers 0-3, the Knicks 2-6, and the Nets 5-9.

What a difference an offseason makes. With the addition of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Zach Randolph to the Atlantic, and New Jersey's re-signing of Vince Carter, Nets president Rod Thorn sees a complete turnaround for the division.

"The Atlantic Division was not very strong last year," said Thorn. "Now, I think it's the strongest division in the East. All of the teams are better. The Knicks are better. Philly went .500 in its last 40 games. We're better, if we stay healthy.

"If you look at the East, there are 11 or 12 teams that have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs."

Thorn also confirmed what most Celtics fans have been thinking since Garnett came to town.

"Boston got a lot better," said Thorn. "They got one of the best players in the league, and he has been for 10 years. He's a guy who comes to play every day and brings great emotion. When you can get a player of that ilk and you're not giving up a player of that ilk, you're going to get better.

"Allen is certainly one of the top scorers in the league. I've always had great respect for Paul Pierce, being in the division. They have three players among the top players in the league.

"Any time you have [a group] like that, you're going to be a factor to be reckoned with. How they fill the rest of the spots will ultimately determine how good they'll be."

Etc.

They couldn't work it out
When NBA players complain about "having a target" on them in public, it doesn't always generate a lot of sympathy. But when a Celtics player is harassed for working out at a New England gym with a free pass, it makes you think about the unexpected difficulties of being a professional athlete. Ray Allen had an unsettling experience recently at WOW Fitness in Cromwell, Conn., according to the Hartford Courant. Allen, who usually goes through offseason workouts at his alma mater, the University of Connecticut, was given a guest pass to WOW Fitness a few weeks ago. When the pass expired, employees extended a courtesy and allowed Allen to continue working out for free, even though he offered to pay for a membership on several occasions. At one point, an employee even suggested that he could connect with the owner for a promotional deal to increase business at the gym. Although Allen never agreed to any deal, he thought it was a good idea because he has close ties to the community. But any thought of working with WOW Fitness ended when the owner of the facility, Lou Soteriou, confronted Allen after a workout. According to what Allen told the Courant, Soteriou was upset that Allen had used the gym about eight times without paying. "He said, 'Why don't you just buy a membership like everybody else? I have a business here to run. I don't give any free handouts. I have a business to run here,' " Allen told the Courant. "He was yelling at me like I was one of his kids or something, but once he said that, he walked out of the office, just walked away from me. I said, 'I'll never come in your gym again.' He was like, 'Don't come back.' " Soteriou should file his actions under, "Very bad business decision." Undoubtedly, any number of gyms around Connecticut would be happy to have Allen as a customer, especially if he brings along some of his new teammates from the Celtics.

A few items from Craig's list
A quick conversation with Boston College alumnus and current Timberwolves forward Craig Smith after he finished a workout in Minneapolis provided insight into Kevin Garnett, as well as information about the benefit of Pilates. "It was a blast to play side-to-side with a Hall of Famer and go against him every day in practice," said Smith. "He taught me so much in my first year that I think I'll be able to handle a little bit more by myself this upcoming season. I tried to steal everything I could from footwork to the way he handles different situations, the focus he brings to the game. He's going to try to take your head off [in practice], so be prepared. He's only trying to make you better. So, at the same time, step up to the challenge. Do the best of your ability and you'll earn respect that way. The Kevin Garnett you see on the court is the same Kevin Garnett you see in practice." And what about the Pilates? "I'm doing something different to change my body type as far as with Pilates," said Smith. "I've strengthened my core so much that if I had to, as far as reaching for a ball awkwardly, I'm still strong in that area to where I wouldn't hurt anything or pull anything."

Doc's orders: Take the tour
Somewhere in Orlando, Doc Rivers might be thumbing through travel guides for Rome and London. He doesn't want the Celtics' two-week preseason trip overseas to be just about basketball. In fact, he hopes the trip allows the team to bond in a way they wouldn't have practicing in Waltham. "I love it," said Rivers. "I pushed it last year because I was hoping we could get to do it. I'm a big believer in doing camp outside of your area. I like camp away, and we haven't had that [since Burlington, Vt., in 2004]. Our guys are worried about that [traveling] with me because I'm a tour guide. We're going to have a lot of educational stuff. I hope that they like it, but we're going to do it regardless. It's going to be mandatory." Rivers doesn't worry about the preseason trip slowing the Celtics' progress, even though teams that have traveled overseas in the past have started the regular season slowly.

Think fast
A quick start is certainly on the mind of the Celtics, especially since recent slow starts have essentially doomed the season before New Year's Eve. "My whole thing is I want our team to get off to a fast start," said Kendrick Perkins. "Everybody thinks we're going to get off to a slow start. I'm talking about seven-in-a-row type fast. Like 7-1. That's what I'm thinking."

Holding pattern
Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge doesn't appear to be in any rush with regard to signing second-round picks Gabe Pruitt and Glen Davis or future Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. Negotiations are ongoing with Pruitt and Davis. Meanwhile, Miller continues to work out twice a day as he tests his body's ability to handle the rigors of the NBA. Ainge said he did not have any timetable set with regard to Miller, who could be weeks away from making a decision.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com

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