Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Kendrick Perkins is fast becoming a star NBA analyst.
Celtics fans figured him out early during his seven-plus seasons as the glue-guy power forward in a lineup filled with megastars — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo — and mega-ego.
His disarming southern drawl always belied his I’ll-do-the-dirty-work-without-remorse attitude and ever-present in-game scowl. But the off-the-court “Perk’’ — no one who played with him called him Kendrick — was charismatic, engaging and blunt, someone who knew the game well and loved talking about it.
His reputation during his 14-year career was one of such universal respect that Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer collected a series of anecdotes about him in 2017 that ran under the headline: “Kendrick Perkins: The NBA’s Best Teammate.”
But here’s the thing: His fast-ascending career in sports media comes as a complete surprise to one person: Perk himself.
“Who would have thought that an ol’ country boy from football country would end up doing this,’’ said Perkins, who is from Nederland, Texas. “I kind of planned to go into coaching, but it didn’t work out as I wanted. So I started doing this, and you could say it has stuck. I didn’t see it coming, man, but I love it.’’
Perkins really only started last April when he began doing some studio work for ESPN and Fox Sports 1, more of a freelancer than an employee of one place or another. ESPN began booking him after he announced his retirement in an entertaining podcast with reporter/insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
But that’s changing now. Perkins recently agreed to a two-year contract to be exclusive to ESPN. His role will include serving as the main analyst, alongside host Cassidy Hubbarth, for Hoop Streams, the network’s on-location digital NBA pregame show on the ESPN App/Twitter/YouTube. He will also continue to contribute to “The Jump’’, “Get Up’’, and “SportsCenter’’.
Hoop Streams runs before “priority’’ games. That includes several early season games, among them an Oct. 25 game in New Orleans, which is Zion Williamson’s home debut, and Christmas Day for Lakers-Clippers.
Part of Perkins’s appeal is his willingness to be candid and critical of players who not so long ago were peers, some of whom are good friends, such as former Thunder teammate Kevin Durant.
Last year, Perkins drew notice in the Boston market when he said former Cavs teammate Kyrie Irving was a “bad leader,’’ a truth that not all analysts would be quick to acknowledge given Irving’s stature in the league.
“You know, I’m not the guy who goes out there and speaks with all the big words, but you know what, I shoot it straight, get my points across,’’ said Perkins. “I just love it. I love doing my research and stuff like that, I love studying the game. I really take it serious, and it really took off for me.
“I’m not just not about to sit up here and be vague about stuff. I’m going to call it how I see it. I’ll give props, I’m not just here to bash, but I’m not going to be one-sided.’’
He laughs. “Sometimes it’s good to ruffle them feathers.’’
He’s broken news due to his contacts and friendships and his willingness to ask blunt questions. He broke the news of Rondo’s deal with the Lakers, and was correct with what he calls an “informed prediction’’ that Durant would leave the Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets.
He laughs heartily — something he does often — when he’s told he’s treading on Wojnarowski’s news-breaking territory.
“Woj is one of my good friends. I remember joking with him during free agency, I started calling myself Poj. He said, ‘I love it, Perk.’ He’s a guy who’s got it. He’s got it. We know if Woj tweets something, reports something it’s fact.’’
Perkins said his willingness to say his piece when there could be blowback comes from his early days with the Celtics. Garnett and Pierce both went into television after their careers were over, and Ray Allen certainly could have. Others such as James Posey and Sam Cassell went into coaching. And Brian Scalabrine has done both.
The basketball intelligence on that 2007-08 championship roster — and the willingness to share an opinion — helped Perkins learn how to make a point and deal with disagreement.
“From Day 1, you had to be a guy who could take criticism, constructive criticism, be able to take the heat,’’ he said. “I think that’s what helped a lot of guys. That helped us. We didn’t give a damn what people had to say about us. We didn’t care if one of your teammates got on us. We just accepted it and moved on.
“We were guys who studied the game, like ‘this is our life.’ We would sit back for hours and hours after practice just talking about basketball. Talking about different teams, who we would draft, if we were to start a team who would we take.
“We were a lot of guys with high basketball IQs and a love for the game, and guys who weren’t afraid to speak their mind. They weren’t afraid to shoot it straightforward. You’d get feedback from people you might not want to hear, but you gotta stand for what you believe in.’’
One area in which Perkins hasn’t yet fully formulated his opinion yet is in regard to this year’s Celtics.
If everything goes right, he says, they could be a “very, very, very big surprise.’’ But he wants to see whether Gordon Hayward is healthy and Kemba Walker can thrive in the Boston atmosphere. He also says he wishes the Celtics — he still refers to them as “we’’ — had somehow been able to acquire big man Steven Adams from the Thunder.
But there is one thing of which he is sure.
“We’ve got to keep big Tacko Fall, man. I don’t think we should send him to the G-League.
“He looked damn good. People are sleeping on him. I think he’s going to have a nice pro career for a long time. We’ve got to figure out a way to keep big Tacko Fall on the Celtics.
“And the people love him. Hell, he might lead the Celtics in jersey sales. No. 99, I’m like, get me one.’’