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Return to Boston tugs on Perkins’s heartstrings

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / November 27, 2011
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The crowd at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion did not leave any enthusiasm or adulation in reserve when Kendrick Perkins walked onto the floor for the Boston Charity Classic last Saturday. The sold-out crowd stood and cheered vigorously as a slimmed-down Perkins, overtaken by emotion, waved his right arm in acknowledgement.

Perkins is in an ideal situation in Oklahoma City, the spiritual leader of a young and hungry team that reached the Western Conference semifinals last season and could be the favorites to win the conference when the season resumes. But the fact that Perkins identified with the workmanlike Boston mentality and that Shaquille O’Neal was such an abject failure in his stint with the Celtics makes Perkins even more beloved in these parts.

“I never knew how much I missed being here,’’ said Perkins, who is only 27 but will be entering his ninth NBA season. “I definitely missed the whole city of Boston, the whole area of New England, and it just felt good to be playing basketball back in Boston.

“It’s always overwhelming, you try to catch yourself dropping a tear or something like that. The city has been good to me. I hated to leave, but God does everything for a reason.’’

When the Celtics traded Perkins to the Thunder last Feb. 24, he was coming off a sprained left knee. The injury hampered Perkins much more than the Celtics or Thunder expected it to, and he essentially played the postseason on one leg. His leadership was there but his production wasn’t.

When the season ended, Perkins allowed the knee to heal and then began conditioning to drop some of the excess weight he had gained. In the Boston charity game, Perkins looked as lean as he has in years and ran the floor effortlessly. Of course, nobody was going to attempt to stop Perkins roaring to the paint in an exhibition game, but the difference from his play last season was dramatic.

“I’ve just been rehabbing a lot, trying to take a lot of pressure off my knee,’’ said Perkins, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in June 2010. “Just go from there. I was just happy to be playing basketball.’’

“When Rajon [Rondo] called me two weeks ago [about this game], I told him I’d be the first to do it.’’

What the fans and media also miss about Perkins is his brutal honesty. He doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t camouflage the truth behind clichés. He felt the players should have been allowed to vote on the owners’ previous offer, which sparked litigation.

There are scores of Boston fans who believe Perkins should have remained a Celtic and are miffed that president Danny Ainge would dramatically alter chemistry by moving the team’s toughest and most imposing player. The Celtics got Jeff Green in return but were never the same team defensively. O’Neal was physically unable to fill the void at center.

“Yeah I am hurt, surprising,’’ said Perkins. “It really still hasn’t hit me yet. Not really. But I think everything happened so fast last year that for me coming back from my ACL injury and straining my MCL and getting traded the next day and going to a young Oklahoma City team, it still hurts that I got traded.

“Then again, the city of Oklahoma has been great to me. I have no complaints, from Kevin [Durant] on down.’’


Shaq defends his statements

It’s no surprise that Shaquille O’Neal has remained in the spotlight as much in retirement as he had when he was a perennial All-Star. He signed a contract with TNT and has written a tell-all book about his playing career, co-written with former Globe columnist Jackie MacMullan.

His revelations in “Shaq Uncut: My Story,’’ have ruffled some feathers, whether it is recalling his tempestuous relationship with Kobe Bryant or what he perceived to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s disregard for him during his Lakers years. Abdul-Jabbar responded to O’Neal through Facebook, and called him “delusional’’ on NBA TV.

Generally, athletes wait years to reflect on their careers before offering their opinions with a book. Shaq waited a few weeks.

“All it is is a book about reflection,’’ he said. “All the stuff I reflected about has been documented.

“But this is the truth. I’m just reflecting, and a lot of people will read it and make unintelligent interpretations.

“But again, this is stuff that has already been documented. I haven’t broken any man codes or any locker room stories. I haven’t told anything that put people’s lives and families in jeopardy.’’

O’Neal accused Abdul-Jabbar of refusing to offer him help. Abdul-Jabbar said O’Neal never approached him about being tutored, and it wasn’t in his nature to initiate a working relationship with the young megastar.

“When I first got to the All-Star Game, like, [Michael] Jordan, the greatest player in the world, touched me and we had a conversation and he said, ‘You should do this,’ ’’ O’Neal said. “I would see Kareem and he would never have much to say, but I never took it personal.

“I read his response and I understand his response. You have to understand something about me: I don’t take anything personal. Everyone has their own way and their own path.’’

O’Neal would not back down from the assertion that Abdul-Jabbar didn’t embrace him when he got to Los Angeles in 1996.

“I’m not trying to disrespect nobody, but that man never really talked to me,’’ said O’Neal, whose jersey No. 34 is expected to be retired in Los Angeles at some point. “Bill Russell, when I first met him, three hours, told me everything. Told me that Red [Auerbach] used to stick up for him: ‘You guys think you have it hard now, how about going to a hotel and the manager says no black people, you got to get out, and Red says OK, the world champion Celtics ain’t staying here, we’ll go to another hotel.’

“He was telling me stories like that. I would love to hear some Kareem stories. But again, it ain’t personal. Jackie asked me if the man talked to me and I said no.’’

O’Neal was supposed to be in the second year of the two-year deal he signed with the Celtics, but he was limited to 37 games last season because of foot injuries, and made little impact in the playoffs. The Celtics had to shut the big man down and he retired shortly after they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Heat.

The Celtics were forced to depend on Jermaine O’Neal, who was coming off knee surgery, too much during the postseason. Shaq still has deep regret about being unable to deliver in his final season.

“Every time I text them and every time I see people from Boston, I always tell them I’m sorry for letting them down,’’ he said. “I do believe that if I wouldn’t have gotten hurt that we would have made it pretty far.’’


Johnson has kept in shape

JaJuan Johnson was supposed to be in the teeth of his rookie season now, being tutored by Kevin Garnett, getting shoved around the paint by Udonis Haslem, and running the floor for alley-oops from Rajon Rondo. But the only green he has worn since being drafted by the Celtics is the green team jersey in the Boston Charity Classic last Saturday at Harvard.

As a shot-blocking forward who could spell Garnett and provide coach Doc Rivers with quality minutes, Johnson was supposed to help immediately. Now it remains to be seen how quickly the No. 1 pick can develop with a shortened training camp.

Unlike other rookies, Johnson showed no interest in heading overseas for an opportunity. He has remained in Indianapolis working out and waiting.

“It’s been tough, obviously there’s a huge waiting process,’’ he said. “But you just have to roll with the punches and be ready. That’s how I take it.’’

Johnson said he has spent the past few months working on lower-body strength. The Celtics like his athleticism and energy, and his 6-foot-10-inch, 220-pound frame is reminiscent of Garnett when he came into the league 16 years ago. He runs the floor effortlessly and has a solid mid-range jumper, but Johnson has yet to display an NBA-level low-post game.

“I have just been working on my core, my flexibility really,’’ he said. “I want to be able to move better on the court. Those things are pretty big for me. I feel like I’m moving better, it’s easier, and I am definitely seeing improvement.’’

Johnson said he has talked with Jeff Green and worked out with Rondo in the summer. He has yet to talk to Garnett.

While Johnson made the decision to stay home, his Purdue teammate E’Twaun Moore, the Celtics’ second-round pick, accepted an offer from Benetton Treviso in Italy. He was averaging 9.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in six games.

“He’s enjoying it out there but he’s ready to get back,’’ Johnson said.

Johnson must learn Rivers’s system. Because of the lockout, he and Rivers have been banned from talking to one another since June 30.

“It’s been tough, but it’s something that I think a lot of people saw coming,’’ he said. “It wasn’t like I was blindsided by it.’’

With no income, Johnson has been living with his parents in Indianapolis and watching his teenage sister play basketball.

“They enjoy me, but they’re ready for me to get out of the house,’’ Johnson said of his parents. “They say the house is a lot junkier now that I am there.

“It’s been nice seeing them, but I’m ready to get out of there.’’


Rubio keeps his shirt on

Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio is property of the Timberwolves and has been in Los Angeles working out. He participated in Drew Gooden’s all-star game at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and was so excited about playing in the United States against NBA competition that he kept his game jersey despite fans screaming for him to toss it into the crowd. Rubio was planning to wait only a few more weeks for the lockout to end and would have considered heading back to Spain. “I’m getting ready for the NBA season,’’ he said. “I’m always thinking about the day that will come for my first game.’’


The resumption of the talks that led to a tentative agreement was due to a phone conversation between Players Association lawyer David Boies and commissioner David Stern. Boies said in a press conference last Monday that the reason the sides had not talked formally since the NBPA filed lawsuits in California and Minnesota was that they were waiting for each other to make the first move. It is unclear who made the first move, but somebody relented . . . While Ray Allen preferred not to play in charity or all-star games, he couldn’t resist the Obama Classic, an all-star game to support President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Allen, Paul Pierce, and Doc Rivers had committed to the Dec. 12 game (at a site to be determined), as did Magic Johnson, John Wall, Kevin Durant, and Cheryl Miller.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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