Sunday, March 27, 2011

Boston Celtics Screwed Without Kendrick Perkins

When the Boston Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green the best way to describe the reaction from around the league was shock.  Even the players themselves were taken aback by the trade as it seemingly came out of nowhere.  That trade happened more than a month ago on February 24th but the effects are still being felt today as the Celtics are currently playing some of their worst basketball of the seasons and never seemed to fully recover from the loss of Perk.

From a basketball point of view I can understand why Celtics General manager Danny Ainge made the deal.  Kendricks Perkins has had a history of injury problems and was in need of a new contract that the Celtics more than likely wouldn't have been able to afford.  He didn't have a lot of offensive upside and since Rondo disappears at the end of games that meant that 2 out of the 5 guys on the floor during crunch time were useless on offense.

Another factor to consider was that going into the playoffs the Celtics knew that if they made it to the Finals they would probably have to face the Heat, Knicks and Lakers which means playing against LeBron, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant.  The only person on the Celtics who can guard those guys was Paul Pierce and if he had to play shutdown defense every game it would have detracted from his offensive game which the Celtics heavily rely on.  So the Celtics needed another solid defender to take some pressure off Pierce.  Jeff Green fits that mold perfectly and I think once the playoffs start he will prove himself to be a solid role player and exactly what the Celtics needed.

Ainge was also banking on Sahquille O'Neal and Jermain O'Neal being able to stay healthy and contribute valuable minutes every night.  With those two, as well as Glen Davis, taking up all of the front court minutes it made Perkins expendable and so he was traded. 

So that's strictly the basketball side of things.

From a team chemistry point of view there isn't a worse trade I could think of as far as the Celtics are concerned.  Perkins was well-loved by the fans as well as everyone on the team and was Rajon Rondo's best friend.  He was a great teammate always sticking up for anyone on the team and he would do anything the coaches asked him to do to help the team win.  The guy bled Green and White and he was shipped out of town with seemingly no warning to either himself or the rest of the team.

The first game after the trade the Celtics played the Denver Nuggets and lost 89-75.  The entire game they  looked disinterested, shell-shocked and lifeless which led Bill Simmons, a lifelong Celtics fan and writer for ESPN, to tweet, "Congrats on the 2011 title, Laker fans. And congrats on making the Finals, Chicago fans."

That game has really been a microcosm for the rest of the Celtics season as they are currently playing with such a malaise that it makes their games really hard to watch.  Rajon Rondo has been awful since the trade showing only flashes of his old self and his body language is terrible as he looks like he is constantly pouting and like he wants to be anywhere but on the court.  Kevin Garnett has had poor shooting nights and doesn't have anyone to growl with and scream alongside anymore.  Paul Pierce has had questionable shot selection and Ray Allen’s role in the offense is almost non-existent now that Green is on the team.

Simply put without Perk the Celtics just don't have the same swagger.

Head Coach Doc Rivers addressed the problem recently during an interview with the Boston Globe, "The way we're playing shocks me," Rivers said. "Our attitude shocks me. We're just not ready to win any games right now the way we play, the way our approach is to basketball games."
The Celtics are 9-7 since the trade and have lost some key games to some awful teams including home losses to the Charlotte Bobcats, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies.  They have also lost games to the lowly New Jersey Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers.  Most importantly they have dropped out of the #1 seed in the East and now sit 2.5 games back of the Bulls and only and 1/2 game up on the Heat.  Without the #1 seed the Celtics road in the playoffs is going to increasingly more difficult as they will more than likely have to go through both the Knicks and the Heat to get to the Finals.

But the Celtics shouldn't even be thinking about the Finals right now because without Perk the team must now rely on veterans like Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal who surprise surprise are both hurt.  Simmons also had something to say about that, "I guess you can't blame Danny - there was no way to know that 58 year old Shaquille O'Neal might be injured come playoff time."

Ainge has a different opinion however as in a recent interview with the Boston Globe he had this to say, "these games aren’t lost because Shaq [O’Neal] and Jermaine [O’Neal] aren’t playing.  The guys that are in uniform and playing, we have plenty to be winning games. I think everybody in that locker room will tell you we haven’t been playing as well as we’ve been capable of playing."

Doc Rivers echoed Aigne's feelings to ESPN, "I know what we have in the locker room is good enough to win a title, as far as talent. I also know that right now, in our minds, we're not good enough. Until we move to that next step -- they were there earlier in the year and they were there other parts -- but right now they are not."

Celtic defenders point out that last year the Celtics went through a similar funk after the All-Star break and only played .500 basketball yet still made it all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals.  If that's your defense then just remember that Perkins was a big part of that playoff run and the Celtics players themselves have come out and said had Perkins not gotten injured during Game 6 they would have won Game 7 in Los Angeles.  

The window of opportunity is quickly closing for the Celtics as "the Big 3" are all in the final stages of their careers.  If the team doesn't win it this year then they might not get another shot.  I think that Celtics fans will look back on this team 10 years from now and think about what could have been had they not traded away Perkins.

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