The Boston Celtics should have left well enough alone. When rugged center Kendrick Perkins returned this month to join all-stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, the defending Eastern Conference champions finally had their potent starting lineup intact after a rash of early-season injuries. How potent a lineup? The Celtics have never lost a playoff series with that quintet playing sweet music on the court.
But the Celtics have broken up their successful combo with Thursday’s trade of Perkins and guard Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for forward Jeff Green and center Nenad Krstic. While the Celtics see Green and Rondo as future cornerstones whenever the over-30 trio of Garnett, Pierce and Allen retires, trading Perkins was not worth the risk.
Boston will miss the toughness and mean streak of the 6-foot-10, 280-pound Perkins. There is no better low-post defender in the NBA. Perkins and Garnett made Celtics opponents think twice about driving to the basket.
The list of teams that won’t miss seeing Perkins in Celtic green begins with the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, Boston’s chief rivals in the East. Today, Boston and Miami are in a virtual tie for first place with Chicago two games behind. Without Perkins, Heat all-stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Bulls all-star Derrick Rose should find it much easier to go strong to the net against the Celtics.
So why trade Perkins? According to TNT basketball analyst and former Celtics great Kevin McHale, Boston worried it wouldn’t have been able to resign Perkins after the season. But there would have been plenty of time to negotiate a new deal. Another great playoff run could have convinced Perkins to stay. The possibility of losing him in free agency wasn’t worth tossing out a winning formula.
The Celtics will gamble that Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal (no relation), and Kristic can make up for Perkins’ absence. But Shaq, who turns 39 on March 6 and is out with a strained Achilles tendon, is a shell of his former self. Jermaine O’Neal, still recovering from knee surgery, has played just 17 games this season. Kristic is not an impact player.
Celtics veterans are said to be stunned by the Perkins trade. They’re not alone.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
Image: AP Photo/Stephan Savoia