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Celtics Sweep Knicks Without Perk, But Post-Trade Struggles Linger

Kendrick Perkins scowls during Game Four of the 2010 NBA Finals (Photo by Getty Images)

For the first time in the Big Three era, the Celtics have won a playoff series without Kendrick Perkins wearing their signature green. Yet, it remained challenging for fans and analysts alike to watch Boston struggle at times in their first round match-up against the long playoff-deprived Knicks and not bring up the “P” word. With a reverence usually reserved for legendary Celtics of old like Bill Russell and Robert Parrish, Celtics Nation near unanimously wonders aloud with wistful if not bitter nostalgia; “What was Danny Ainge thinking when he traded Kendrick Perkins?”

The center position has been nightmarish for the C’s since Perkins went down with a crucial ligament knee injury in last year’s deep playoff run, despite valiant efforts from players like Rasheed Wallace (last year), Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal.

The sound of those names included as the Celtics backup centers still sounds crazy. Six years ago the only way you could get them to play from your bench would have been on a fantasy team. Their names are still synonymous with some of the greatest moments in our generation of basketball.

But, it’s not 2005. And when Wallace tried to put the Celtics on his back, he fell apart. When Shaq helped the Big Four to a comfortable spot atop the Eastern Conference, he fell apart. Now J.O. has stepped in after contributing minimally all year, performed as the others did with intensity and determination while everyone watches with minimal optimism, waiting for him to fall apart. And as many have pointed out in their own best impressions of Rick Pitino; Kendrick Perkins is not walking through that door.

The Conundrum

On paper and based on fact alone, the trade never made any sense to begin with. Perkins had become the franchise center for the C’s, and it seemed that his skill set complimented, almost perfectly, the high scoring and defensively-apt Big Three, along with Rajon Rondo’s league-topping ability to quarterback his team on the floor and distribute the ball.

With Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rondo and Coach Doc Rivers all still together, healthy and playing well, it seemed like pure disaster to mess with success and perhaps a final chance to make a run for the title in the Big Three era; not to mention that with Perkins starting with the aforementioned four, the Celtics had never lost a playoff series. Some fans never see a team like this come together in their lifetimes, let alone win an NBA Championship and go to a Game 7 in another Finals.

The shock of trading away a piece as integral and involved in those championship runs as Kendrick Perkins still seems to linger, especially considering that in return for Perkins and huge 2010 playoff contributor, Nate Robinson, the Celtics received Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green. Danny Ainge’s original explanation for the trade was that he was looking to improve the team’s offensive production by bringing in a center that has a nice jump shot in Krstic and a finesse-type forward hybrid in Green to back up Pierce.

The two newest, offensive-prone and averagely-talented Celtics joined a team whose defensive scheming and strategy have been tantamount to their success; a defense that has been consistently credited with winning them a title and nearly stealing another.

There had been murmurs for a long time that Ainge wanted a more offensive center; a guy that could contribute more points in the paint. But unfortunately what Ainge failed to understand was that his team, just like many of the other championship teams from Boston in this new millennium, was constituted by intangibles. And he took the intangibles and shredded them. He ripped the core of their identity from underneath them.

It sounds corny and a bit overstated to say that these teams won championships based on chemistry and relationships, but it’s hard not to acknowledge when you see the chemistry issues that have plagued this team since the trade deadline.

What We Should Accept

Jeff Green for Nate Robinson. Fine. It’s understandable. Nate Robinson was almost always on the trading block for the Celtics, and Green is a more talented and natural scorer. Plus with Delonte West back and healthy, the point guard bench position was better filled and Robinson was never an ideal backup for the shooting guard position either. Marquis Daniels was almost surely out for the season, and the Celtics needed a reliable backup for their team captain. The trade definitely made sense and helps the Celtics in the longer term…

On the bench.

If Ainge is looking to bring Jeff Green up as the Paul Pierce’s eventual replacement, then he’ll do a decent, acceptable, more than likely underwhelming job. He will be exactly what he was for the Oklahoma City Thunder: a guy who, as a starter, can score between 15-20 points and provide subpar defense and very little physicality.

Perhaps I’m swayed by the legend that is Paul Pierce here in Beantown. Pierce, along with Tom Brady and maybe David Ortiz, is part of the heartbeat of this generation of Boston sports. He is like the Ray Borque of our time; only better because Celtics fans were lucky enough to watch him get everything he deserved here in Boston when Ainge brilliantly gifted him with Garnett and Allen.

I wouldn’t be going out on much of a limb to say that no matter who replaces Paul Pierce, they are never going to be Paul Pierce. So maybe it is better to at least bring in someone like Green now, get the fans and the personnel used to him and comfortable with him, and therefore cushion the considerable aching blow to Celtics’ Nation’s psyche that will be Pierce’s retirement. Unless the Celtics’ can pull off some huge draft or trade at the small forward position, which is still possible with the salaries of the Big Three off the books in the coming years, this makes the most sense.

It’s acceptable. Slightly depressing to think about, but acceptable.

What We Should Never Accept

Ainge made a straight-up trade up front of Kendrick Perkins for Nenad Krstic, and completely upended the team’s systemic makeup.

Boston Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen, power forward Kevin Garnett and center Jermaine O’Neal celebrate in the third quarter of Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics swept the Knicks winning game 4 101-89.

Some groups just click. In the NBA, we’ve seen that collecting the most talented players generally pays off. It’s the just the way that the game is designed. But the Celtics didn’t get Dwight Howard. They didn’t even get an aging Tim Duncan or a sixth man Lamar Odom.

Perkins is playing in the playoffs right now for another team, and Krstic is the third ranked center on this current Celtics team behind Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal. They have openly admitted that they would rather take a 40-year-old, barely-able-to-walk Shaq over the guy that they traded away Kendrick Perkins for. There is no way to twist that into a positive. There just isn’t.

Krstic for Perkins is abominable. The Celtics still, even without Perkins, have the talent and coaching to go the NBA Finals this year. They have proven that they can beat the Heat, and the Bulls, and even Howard and the Magic, without Kendrick Perkins. Whether they will have the health, stamina or mental willpower to do so remains to be seen.

A Win for the Celtics is not a Win for the Trade

If the Celtics go all the way to the Finals this postseason, it will not be with the help of Nenad Krstic, but rather in spite of him. The Big Four and Doc will put this team on their backs, aided by a three-man bench in West, Glen Davis and Green. The glaring Kendrick Perkins-shaped hole in the paint will not go away, whether Shaq comes back or JO keeps playing like it’s five years ago, or the Celtics just decide to go without a starting center completely. And if they do pull off the miracle and win it all this year, it will be just that; a miracle.

It will be in spite of Ainge’s trade, and in spite of his mismanagement of the personnel on his bench. It will be because he has four exceptional future Hall of Famers starting for his team and one of the best coaches in the league.

Either way, Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green do not look to be the short-term future of this team, let alone the long-term. Thank the NBA gods for Rondo.

About Tanya Ray Fox - @TanyaRay18

I am 24 years old, and I work on the sports desk for the premier Boston sports station, Comcast SportsNet New England. My first and lasting love is with the New England Patriots, and then I split my allegiances between the Sox, Celtics and Bruins. I have grown up here and have a passion for all things Boston sports, not just because it is an amazing sports town, but because as a writer we are blessed to always have something to talk about!

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Discussion

8 comments for “Celtics Sweep Knicks Without Perk, But Post-Trade Struggles Linger”

  1. Have you noticed the wonderful stats that Perkins is putting together for the Thunder? Why, in the last game alone, he had 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks. Wow! Actually, I believe he’s averaging about 4 points per game so far, and I’m not aware that he’s led the team in rebounds in any game he’s played. Gee, how in the world could the Celts have traded such a spectacular performer? I watched him for awhile on TV, as he amassed foul after foul, setting his traditional rally breaking moving picks. Yep, it appears that the Perk tradition is alive and well in Oklahoma….and thank goodness I don’t have to watch him any more.

    Now that Donny Marshall – riding the anti-trade bandwagon – has stated on TV that Perk was the “heart and soul” of the Celtics, I’m sure that Pierce or Garnett can ease away into the sunset, knowing that they can never hope to be even 1/2 as important to the team as Perk was. Rondo too. He’ll never be considered as great as Perkins, or in any way as important to their success. Hopefully, Marhall is receiving professional help for his brain tumor.

    Posted by Ken | April 26, 2011, 9:26 pm
  2. Perkins was way too much of an injury risk. Plus, Krstic is taller and a better overall shooter. And remember when he came over and got six offensive boards in one game? That potential will be a huge wild card in the playoffs. Boston is a team built around guards and forwards, which is why they’re able to weather this storm of injuries around their centers.

    Posted by John | April 26, 2011, 9:42 pm
  3. Perkins never was an offensive threat but the way he played caused other teams to fear the Celtics. He brought an attitude that contributed a great deal to the team’s overall defensive intensity. A lot of times KG and Perkins fed of each other and it was clear that opposing guards and swingmen would not be allowed to enter the paint without paying a price.

    If you want to look at numbers then take a look at Krstic in the playoffs against the Knicks who have no real interior threat at center. He didn’t score a bucket until the last game of the series and Doc didn’t even have enough confidence in him to play him more that 5 minutes in the first 2 games. He can score the ball yes, but the Celtics won their title based on their defense. Their defense took a step back with the loss of Perkins.

    THAT is why the deal has not proven to be a good one yet. Even if a championship is won, it doesn’t make it a good trade. In their first series if it wasn’t for Glen Davis in game 4 and the starting 5 you wouldn’t have survived.

    Don’t look at them sweeping that series as them blowing by the Knicks. They didn’t. They should have beat that team but a greater margin in every game, especially with two of their stars either not playing or not 100%.

    Jeff Green, Krstic, Pavlovic, Murphy, and Arroyo have contributed very little, or not even played so far and that is clear evidence that they just aren’t cutting it.

    Perkins may have had injury trouble, but with the exception of maybe Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, who hasn’t been injured over the last few years.

    Fact of the matter is the deal wasn’t a good one. If the Celtics win or lose.

    Posted by Brian Moller | April 27, 2011, 11:41 am
  4. Perk’s value was more intangible based rather then any quantitative measure any stats could back up, which sounds like a cop-out (and probably is to an extent). He added to their defensive cohesion and team chemistry. Truth is the team bought into the (flawed) statistic of the C’s not losing a series with the ’08 starting line-up. (The reason it’s flawed is because injuries happen. It’s part of the game, but that’s a different debate for a different day.)

    The detail that Boston fans still refer to this as the Perk trade (and not the Jeff Green trade) is a red flag. We’re longing for our anchor, rather then embracing the new. Though, the new piece isn’t exactly giving Celtics’ fans a reason to embrace…

    With all that being said, Perkins will never be mistaken for Tim Duncan, or even Marcus Camby although it could be easily argued his skill has been dramatically romanticized since the move. The big winner in this has been Perk and clearly his value has been diluted.

    Posted by Ryan Hadfield | April 27, 2011, 4:04 pm
  5. Perk and Big Baby’s contracts both expire at the end of this season. Ainge did the right thing in getting something (Jeff Green) for Perk. Now they can afford to keep Big Baby and they added a young talent for when the big 3 leave.

    Perk has next to no offensive game. He’s solid on the defensive end but he wasn’t worth the money he would have been asking for this offseason.

    Lets be realistic… perk isn’t the reason the Celtics have been a dominant team over the past few seasons– its Allen, Pierce, and Garnett.

    Perk’s “value,” ie his intangible qualities and the “fear” he supposedly put in other teams was largely based on the biased overly-emotional attachment the boston fans had for him.

    Bottom Line: its time to move on.

    there’s nothing wrong with sweeping a team that has melo and stoudamire…

    Posted by Andrew Kipp | April 27, 2011, 5:52 pm
  6. well Andrew…When other teams say they feel better against the Celtics now that Perk’s gone that’s not a matter of just Celtics fans having an attachment.

    The Celtics do NOT have a center on the roster that can cover the pick and roll and rotations as well as Perkins did which is a huge part of their defensive scheme. It’s all help defense and rotations.

    The Knicks had nothing past Melo and Stoudemire (and it’s spelled Stoudemire not StoudAmire) and Amar’e was clearly not himself.

    Jeff Green’s contract is up too and he may be harder to resign than Perk was because he may want to go back somewhere that he can start.

    Also the biggest part of the Celtics dominance has been the emergence or Rajon Rondo. As Rondo goes so goes the Celtics. Look at a team like the Heat that doesn’t have a point guard to distribute the ball and bring order to the offense. It’s clear that in the half court they struggle.

    Posted by Brian Moller | April 27, 2011, 6:10 pm
  7. I don’t know, my sentiments go both ways. Hence why, I pointed out the merit behind Perk’s intangbiles as well as his value being romaticized and thus inflated.

    No objective person, whether it be a fan or whatever, can say the Perk trade was a win for the Celtics right now. There’s no way, from Rondo walking around catatonically for a month to the overall aura the team gave off heading into the postseason. Watch the 4th episode of the Association, even Doc looks morbid. It’s clear this trade was a poloarizing move.

    Could that change? Of course. Was the trade defensible? Ditto. The Celts needed a perimeter defender to help Pierce guard the LeBron and Melo’s of the world for the playoff stretch.

    I agree, though, the C’s wouldn’t have been able to sign Perk and Ainge trying to get something for him now makes sense. Not to mention, he only played 14 games up to the point of the trade, and the Celtics had the best record in the league to that point. And finally, like Andrew said he got more money in his deal from the Thunder than the Celts could have offered him.

    Posted by Ryan Hadfield | April 27, 2011, 6:11 pm
  8. Brian brings up a good point. Other teams have been vocal as it pertains to the trade. The Lakers openly questioned the move.

    Furthermore, I remember listening to JJ Redick last year during the Finals talk about Perkins being one of the best screen/pick setters in the game. I think that was part of the intangible I was thinking about when I made my initial point — the intrinsic part of the game that doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.

    Posted by Ryan Hadfield | April 27, 2011, 6:19 pm

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