The most stunning development in one of the best NBA seasons in recent memory has been the trade that jettisoned former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, along with guard Nate Robinson, to Oklahoma City right before the trade deadline for Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green. This move left many people scratching their heads because a year ago the Celtics were one quarter away from winning their second championship in three seasons. Quite telling that in that game Boston blew a 13 point lead to the Lakers while Perkins watched helplessly from the bench after suffering a season ending knee injury in game 6.
Fact is the Celtics have not lost a playoff series in which Perkins and the Big 4 of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo have started every game (they won the NBA title in 2008, lost to Orlando in 2009 when Garnett was out with an injury, and the aforementioned loss in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals sans Perkins). When the future of coach Doc Rivers and Ray Allen was uncertain this past off-season, they both returned to the fold with the intent of giving it one more shot at the NBA title as constructed at the time. With Perkins playing for the Thunder, that will certainly not happen.
Why did this happen? At the beginning of the 2010-11 season Perkins reportedly turned down a contract extension offered by the Celtics general manager Danny Ainge. It is possible that Ainge believed he would not be able to re-sign Perkins and wanted to get value back for him, a calculated risk that has backfired thus far. The Celtics are 9-10 in the last 19 games and have been beaten handily by the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat in the last few days, two teams they owned earlier in the season.
Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose stated that the current version of the Boston Celtics is “different” from the team he has played against the last three years. Speaking on Perkins, Rose said “he was hard to get around.” Strong words from a guy who has gotten around everyone this season on his way to the basket. Perkins’ replacements have not come close to providing his toughness to this point. Nenad Krstic is a jump shooting, finesse-playing big man and Jeff Green, who was drafted by the Celtics and traded to Seattle (now Oklahoma City) on draft night, seems like his mind is still in OKC as he has been a non-factor. The veteran big men Boston brought in to give Perkins a breather have not been pulling their weight. Shaquille O’Neal cannot stay on the court at his advanced age sidelined with knee and calf issues and Jermaine O’Neal, who just recently returned to action after missing over 60 games with a knee problem, is a shell of himself.
Besides Kevin Garnett the Celtics have no one in the paint that scares the opposition. Evidence of that came with the 100-77 beating they took at the hands of the Miami Heat on Sunday (Apr. 10th). Miami out-rebounded Boston 42-26 and scored 44 points in the paint. The big man triumvirate of Jermaine O’Neal, Troy Murphy and Krstic combined for a whopping 2 points in 29 combined minutes. Only 3 Celtics players scored in double figures. Lets not forget the mental edge the Heat possibly gained with this shellacking.
On the flip side the Thunder destroyed the Lakers on the same night 120-106 in a game where Perkins got physical with Kobe Bryant (left), something the Thunder failed to do last season. The Lakers beat the Thunder in the first round of the 2010 playoffs mainly because they did not have any real size in the middle to slow Lakers big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Perkins fills that void and then some, plus his experience competing against L.A. will only help should the two teams meet for a rematch.
The playoffs are an entirely different season and no team knows this better than Boston, who limped to the finish line last year only to flip the switch in the postseason. Still Kendrick Perkins was a part of that team and I have to believe he would have eventually re-signed with Boston. He reportedly cried in the locker room when he got the news he was traded and Garnett, Pierce and Doc Rivers looked like someone died when they were interviewed after the deal was done. Perkins immediately signed a 4-year extension with Oklahoma City upon his arrival there, a possible flip of the bird (no pun intended) to Danny Ainge for shipping him out in the first place.
Three years removed from being named Executive of the Year after bringing the original Big 3 together, Ainge has been getting killed on sports websites with some people calling him “Dummy Ainge” for moving Perkins. With Perkins the Celtics were prohibitive favorites to win the Eastern Conference even with all the moves Miami made. This trade will never be on par with the “Curse of the Bambino,” the supposed hex put on the Boston Redsox after they sold Babe Ruth to the rival New York Yankees that led to over 80 years of World Series futility, but if the Celtics do not win the Eastern Conference everyone will point to the trade that shipped out the anchor of the vaunted Boston defense.
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