Commentary

Kendrick Perkins takes big step

Updated: December 22, 2010, 1:48 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- After being fitted for a new knee brace last week in preparation for the next step in his recovery from offseason ACL surgery, Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins briefly tested out his range of motion, then walked onto the practice court and dunked a ball.

"Just to make sure I still can," Perkins deadpanned.

He dunked again Tuesday, this time with more eyes watching him as the Celtics hosted the first of a handful of open practices at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint. It was a moment that might have gone unnoticed if Boston's entire session hadn't been open to the media, but the circumstances gave Perkins an audience to showcase the latest step -- or maybe "leap" is more appropriate -- in his recovery from an injury suffered in Game 6 of last season's NBA Finals.

[+] EnlargeKendrick Perkins
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKendrick Perkins is on the floor after suffering a serious knee injury in Game 6 of last season's NBA Finals.

"Perk looked great for what he did, he actually dunked a couple times," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "That's good. He's in great shape and that's one thing. He's worked so hard."

Little more than five months after undergoing ACL surgery in mid-July, Perkins underwent a MRI last week to gauge his healing. With his doctors satisfied with his progress, Perkins was fitted for a new brace for his right knee and cleared by the Celtics' medical staff to participate in noncontact drills with the team.

So, for the first time since Perkins' knee gave out as he battled the Los Angeles Lakers' Andrew Bynum for a rebound midway through the first quarter of Game 6, Perkins rejoined the Big Three on Tuesday to run through skeleton drills.

"He's done a couple of things with the second unit, but since they don't know any of our plays, it didn't work out as well," Rivers joked. "He's done a couple of things, but today was his most active. He even did the warm-up [stretching and conditioning] and he's never done any of that."

Perkins admitted he was surprised by how comfortable he felt back on the floor for the short run-through of basic drills. Plenty of hurdles remain as Perkins works toward a return to game action, but Tuesday started the process of getting over a hurdle that's unlikely to fall even when he does put on a game jersey again: The mental challenge of trusting his right knee.

Asked if he thought about his knee during the practice, Perkins said, "Not today. A couple times I did, like on a pick-and-roll that I went up and dunked, but I didn't even think about it then, not until after. I was like, 'Damn, I might be all right, after all.' I felt pretty good out there."

One time on the court isn't enough to clear that mental hurdle, and Rivers knows that is likely the biggest challenge any injured player faces in coming back from a major injury.

"The mental part is when he comes back, how much he trusts his leg," Rivers said. "If we can get anything out of Perk this year, we'll be thrilled. I know he's going to play, but it usually takes a year after surgery to be completely confident.

"Some break that barrier earlier -- [New England Patriots wide receiver] Wes Welker being one -- but Tom Brady couldn't. He was good last year; he's the MVP this year."

Perkins would love to make like Welker, and his ability to get back on the playing field for even the most basic of exercises just five months after surgery is remarkable. But Perkins also stressed that, while he hasn't suffered any setbacks in his recovery, he's trying not to be overly ambitious with his timeline to return. In fact, he suggested that Rivers, who usually preaches a "take all the time you need to get 100 percent" philosophy, might have a speedier timeline (late January/early February, according to Perkins) than the big man himself is envisioning (All-Star break in late February).

"I'm just going to see how it goes," Perkins said. "See how my knee responds to extra activities and go from there. I'm really just trying to keep moving forward. I actually feel pretty good and I'm actually surprised how I did out their [Tuesday] going through plays and stuff."

Perkins is scheduled for his next MRI around New Year's Day. He expects to continue participating in skeleton drills for about a month, mixing in his individual on-court sessions and off-court workouts, with hopes of starting full-contact, full-team activities near the end of January.

Perkins is a step closer, but he knows he's not where he wants to be yet. Perkins was asked if Tuesday's practice was meaningful because it marked the first time Boston had its three top centers -- Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and Perkins -- on the floor together. But he's clearly focused on his own next checkpoint.

"No, I think you've got to have contact to say that," Perkins said. "But it felt good to be out there."

It felt good to dunk again, a reminder that he's made significant progress since the summer. Perkins soon retreated to the treadmills above the Celtics' practice court while his teammates participated in contact drills. It seemed appropriate because you get the feeling Perkins is running downhill from here.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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