Posted Feb 25 2011 9:35AM
DENVER -- The last time the Celtics felt this low about losing Kendrick Perkins was when they lost Perkins in the NBA Finals.
His now ex-teammates weren't thrilled then and they aren't ecstatic now. Neither is Perkins; a source said he was hurt and not OK with going to OKC yesterday. Coach Doc Rivers spoke the company line very well; give him that. But his comments were peppered with a trace of we'll-see-how-this-turns-out.
"The whole key for us is our defense," he said, hitting on a crucial point, "and that's the concern."
Are the Celtics a better team without a player who made Dwight Howard sweat for every layup and rebound, a player whose knee injury in Game 6 might've swung the championship in the Celtics' favor last summer?
"On paper, some will say we're not," Rivers said. "I say we are, but that's something we'll have to find out."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, and GM Danny Ainge just took a tremendous risk in trading his starting center for someone (Jeff Green) who'll be a backup forward. This deal makes them different, not necessarily better. Remember, given the twilight of their three-man core, they're built to win now, more than next year, when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce will lose another precious layer of tread. They needed stability down low in the post, given the fragility of the aging O'Neals, Shaquille and Jermaine.
What they didn't need was to panic and dump Perkins, partly because he wouldn't sign a contract extension before the trade deadline. So what? This wasn't the same situation Denver had with Carmelo Anthony, or what Utah had with Deron Williams; those were franchise players who absolutely had to be moved. Perkins was worth keeping around for another stretch run, regardless of what would happen contractually.
In a best-case scenario, which was very possible, Perkins would've been motivated to make good money and played accordingly in the postseason, gobbling up rebounds and swallowing up space in the paint. And then the new labor agreement, which will surely put limits on player contracts in terms of scope and length, could've fallen in Boston's favor. Anyway, suppose Perkins wanted to play somewhere else next season? Fine. Just issue a sign-and-trade and get his replacement then. But not now. Not when you need him most.
Instead, they'll lean on KG to spend considerable energy chasing Joakim Noah and Howard, and if the Celtics are fortunate, Pau Gasol or Tim Duncan in the Finals. Instead, they'll counter with Green, who underachieved in Oklahoma City and never could become the dangerous third option the Thunder needed to get over the hump.
Instead, the Celtics just tinkered with the chemistry of a championship contender, always a dangerous strategy in mid-season.
"Perk meant a lot to us," Rivers said. "When you lose a person that close and that ingrained in your family, it's emotional, no question."
There's a sense in Oklahoma City that the Thunder just narrowed the gap between themselves and the other, more taller competition in the West. There's no need for Nick Collison to pretend to be 7-feet anymore, or for Cole Aldrich to pretend to be an impact rookie. OKC just got something for the Lakers and Spurs, and even though Perkins is hardly an All-Star, he fills a need -- a very pressing need that cost the Thunder last spring in their thrilling series with the Lakers.
Eventually, like maybe even today, Perkins will get over his departure from Boston. It's not as though the Celtics treated him like the Clippers just treated Baron Davis. Perkins is going to a winning team that will only ask him to do what he does best: defend and rebound. And if he does that, they'll also pay him. Handsomely.
Green will back up Pierce and Garnett and is more insurance for the future, say two years from now, when new blood will help the Celtics transition into a new era. No question, it's hard to add solid young players when you're drafting near the bottom of the first round, as the Celtics are doing every year. So when the opportunity comes, you seize it, in most cases. In this case, they could worry about the future in the future. Not now, not as the favorite to repeat as conference champions.
If Green does eventually look good in green this season, then he'll allow the Celtics to throw a new look at teams and dare them to adjust.
"People forget," Rivers said, "that when we won it, we went small on the floor when it counted. We had James Posey at the four and Kevin at the five. This gives us the ability to play the way we did when we won it. We haven't been able to duplicate that since Posey left."
Still, chemistry may become an issue in Boston in the aftermath of this trade.
"It's difficult for everybody, man," said Kevin Garnett. "The chemistry and personality gets disjointed. It all gets disrupted."
Yes, if Green can duplicate what Posey did and the Celtics can duplicate 2008, life will be great. But why isn't everyone in Boston feeling that right now?
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