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My Momma always told me “Brian, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Celtics GM Danny Ainge could have used my Momma. After a 97-87 Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat ended the Celtics season, it became all too clear that the gambles Ainge took at the trade deadline left him with nothing but lint in his pockets.
Watching LeBron James and Dwyane Wade slash the lane and attack the rim was just pathetic. It would have been nice to have a big tough defensive center hanging out under the hoop to put them on their backs and make them think twice about charging in there again. Kendrick Perkins did that and gave Boston the type of swagger and attitude that made teams fear them. Since the trade, the only fear when playing the Celtics is that you might do bodily harm to a senior citizen.
Since the deal was made in late February, it was quite evident that the Celtics frontcourt did not have what it took to get stops the way that they used to. In Game 4, the Celtics gave up 48 points in the paint, a number we rarely saw when Perk was still sporting Celtic green.
They beat teams the last four seasons by preventing dynamic scorers like Wade and James from getting to the bucket. The rotations were always crisp and the chemistry was even better. The defense looked like it was on a string. One rotation led to the next and to the next and everyone knew where everyone else had to be and would be.
I know there are plenty who will argue that Perkins hasn’t put up big numbers in Oklahoma City and that never contributed a great deal offensively in Boston either. If you were to say that, you’d be right. The thing is, he wasn’t valuable in Boston because of his offensive capabilities. We had three future Hall-of-Famers who could take care of that. He was here because he knew his role, embraced it and played it damn well.
And if you really want to take a look at some numbers, Perkins is averaging 27.9 minutes and 6.8 rebounds in 10 playoff games for Oklahoma City. There isn’t one Celtics big man other than Kevin Garnett who matched Perkins’ numbers in either one of those categories. Jermaine O’Neal was closest with 21.9 minutes and 4.2 rebounds in nine games. You’re crazy if you’re telling me those Perkins’ statistics would not have been beneficial.
Would Kendrick Perkins have saved the Celtics in this series? Who knows? Probably not, but having him sure would have helped. Jermaine O’Neal did his best Perk impression all series long, but the much older, slower O’Neal just didn’t cut it as evidenced by the numbers.
“But Perk is still hurt and hasn’t recovered from his knee injury!” That’s true, but at the time of the trade Ainge said he was confident Shaq would be back and healthy for the playoffs. We all know how that turned out. The 39-year-old center was collecting a nice chunk of change to sit front row and witness the Celtics’ demise up-close. Maybe it was just me but betting on an aging giant didn’t seem like a brilliant idea and go figure, it wasn’t.
You can’t say that getting just under 28 minutes and almost seven boards from another big body wouldn’t have alleviated some of the frontcourt struggles. Shaq played a total of 12 minutes in the 2011 playoffs. 12 minutes where he gave you all of two points and zero boards. Still injured or not Perkins’ numbers were far greater than that.
When Perk left, so did some championship experience. That’s what the Thunder wanted when they took him. Jeff Green was supposed to be the new stud and possible future of Celtics coming to provide a big boost to the bench.
So, to keep everyone up to speed, the trade gave away championship experience, someone who understood the system and a starting center. In return, the C’s got someone who wasn’t even going to start here, had been to the playoffs once and had less than 27 games to get up to speed on the system. We also got a backup center who was forced to start because there was a hole left in the starting rotation in Perk’s absence (Jermaine O’Neal eventually took that starting spot). Great.
Green was brought on board because Boston needed a backup swingman to play behind Paul Pierce. Great idea, except Green has clearly struggled when he plays the small forward spot and he is more comfortable as a natural power forward. His dribbling ability is suspect and I think I’ve seen him drop more passes than he’s caught, including a pass that slipped through his hands and went out of bounds late in the fourth quarter in Game 5.
In the playoffs, he and Krstic may as well have not shown up. They were part of a bench that brought next to nothing to the second season. The rest of the deadline deals eventually brought in Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic, and Carlos Arroyo. Those three played a combined 3 minutes of postseason ball with one rebound and no points.
With all those new guys contributing as much as I did to this series, we could rely on Glen Davis right? Well, Glen went missing as well and then there we were. A team that had everyone singing their praises through most of the regular season on account of their depth was now left with none.
Boston was down to four guys. It was up to Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnet,t who had to get the C’s to where they wanted to go. Four guys with an average age of almost 32 years old.
We all knew the Celts had a tight window to win another title; all of us except for Ainge apparently. He chanced winning now to have something for the future. It was expected that Perkins and Boston wouldn’t reach an agreement in the offseason so Ainge tried to get value for him now. It’s an understandable strategy for a team with time, but time was one thing that was definitely not in Boston’s favor. If you couldn’t re-sign him then you couldn’t re-sign him, but at least you’d have a better chance at another title before the window was slammed shut.
At the time of the trade, the Celtics were in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 41-14 record. In their final 27 games after the trade, Boston dropped to the three-seed and went 15-12. In those 27 games, they nearly lost as many contests as they did in the first 55.
Since Perkins’ debut in Thunder blue on March 14, Oklahoma City went 13-4 to close out the regular season. They’re now just one win away from heading to the Western Conference Finals to take on the Dallas Mavericks. Sure, Perkins has nothing to do with that.
You can tell me Perk was a bum. You can tell me he was a shell of what he used to be because of the injury. You can tell me the Celtics would have lost to the Heat either way, but the numbers don’t lie. The Celtics were better when Perkins was in uniform.
The Celtics looked better when he was here. They played better when he was here and most importantly, they won when he was here. The trade was a bust, I said it at the time of the deal and I’m still saying it now. Players and coaches across the league questioned what Boston was doing. Analysts couldn’t figure out if Ainge really thought this was best or he had been drinking and drunk dialed the Thunder front office.
Celtic players were stunned and hurt by the moves, often referring to Perkins’ exit as losing family. Then, after losing Game 5 and being eliminated, there was a lot of talk coming from the Boston locker room alluding to the fact that moves need to be made for next year. Maybe I’m looking too far into the comments, but to me certain members of the Celtics still don’t seem thrilled that Ainge dismantled a championship contender in the midst of a great season.
Give Ainge all the credit you want for bringing the Big Three together in 2007, but this year he has to take the heat for leaving the Celtics short. There was a title contender in-tact and banner 18 was dancing through the minds of the Celtic faithful. In the end, there’s nothing left but to watch our old friend Perk keep winning with someone else, while green teamers everywhere remember what was.
Follow Brian Moller on Twitter: @Brian_Moller