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Tough deal for Rondo

Transition not an easy one for guard

Rajon Rondo pushed on Saturday night while missing his friend, Kendrick Perkins. Rajon Rondo pushed on Saturday night while missing his friend, Kendrick Perkins. (Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)
By Gary Washburn
February 28, 2011

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SALT LAKE CITY — Following an emotional send-off late Thursday night, the morning broke in Denver to snow, and the Celtics’ flight to Los Angeles was delayed, perhaps postponing the undesired task of moving forward without Kendrick Perkins.

The plane arrived in LA Friday night, and the Celtics hit the Student Activities Center at UCLA Saturday morning for shootaround without Perkins, who was speaking to the media in Oklahoma City. The newest Celtics, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, were ready to be indoctrinated.

Team president Danny Ainge didn’t just trade one of the league’s top defensive centers in Perkins, he dealt a critical part of the Celtics’ chemistry and locker room unity. Perkins was a quiet leader, sending intimidating vibes with that customary scowl.

Tears were flowing during that send-off in Denver, but during a sun-drenched day on UCLA’s Westwood campus, filled with Bruins fans milling around before their team’s matchup with the University of Arizona, the Celtics moved forward — most of them, anyway.

After the Celtics’ 99-92 victory over the Clippers Saturday night, a bit of normalcy began to return to the locker room. The players have decided the best thing to do is accept what is now official, and secure the No. 1 seed with their current roster and perhaps a few additions in the next couple of days.

But one Celtic conspicuous in his silence immediately after the trade was Rajon Rondo, who declined to speak with the media after the 89-75 loss to the Nuggets Thursday night. Rondo quietly dressed and listened as Paul Pierce addressed the media, then slipped to a private room and stayed there.

Saturday night was the first time Rondo discussed the deal that sent his best friend to Oklahoma, and there wasn’t much of an indication that he was ready to move forward.

“We got the win, and that’s all that matters, try to get these two games,’’ he told the Globe [the Celtics play Utah tonight]. “We’ll find a way to get the win, without much practice time.’’

When asked about the trade, Rondo said, “Nothing else really much to say about that situation.’’

When asked if he had talked to Perkins, Rondo said, “Yeah, I talked to him. He’s maintaining.’’

Rondo is the commander of the Celtics’ offense. It’s up to him to figure where Green and Krstic like to receive the ball, and as Krstic learned Saturday night, it’s best for them to always have their hands ready for Rondo passes. Twice he hit Krstic with pinpoint deliveries and twice Krstic flubbed them.

For the Celtics to win the NBA title, Rondo has to be completely focused, and this trade affects that ability. Although they often argued playfully in front of the media, they were extremely close.

And Rondo must be mature enough to accept that the NBA is indeed a cruel business.

“It’s going to take time [to adjust to the new teammates],’’ he said. “The only thing you can do is just play with those guys. You can’t really walk with them through things, you’ve just got to get a good feeling when they get out there on the floor.’’

Celtics coach Doc Rivers noted following Saturday night’s game that Rondo appeared tired, but it was more like mentally exhausted. The trade was completely unexpected. And it ruffled the chemistry the players had worked so hard to establish the past few years.

The team’s spiritual leader, Kevin Garnett, who said Thursday was a “tough day to play basketball,’’ sounded more encouraging after Saturday night’s win. He appeared ready to embrace and mentor the new players.

“The emotional part, you have to separate the two,’’ he said. “My whole thing in this is just embrace change and that’s what I’m doing. [The new players] are open guys and you have to be open, too. Obviously they’re used to a certain something and we tend to think we do things a little different here, the winning ways, we’re professional at all times.

“A lot of the stuff we do is stuff we’re examples of, so they will see it more than hear it.’’

Pierce also was more upbeat than Thursday night. He has seen a plethora of teammates come and go in Boston. Change has been part of his experience as a Celtic and perhaps that makes it easier for him to adjust.

“It’s hard psychologically on both ends because you know what Perk brings,’’ he said. “Especially when both the O’Neals have been up and down with injuries this year. Perk has been, too, but we know what Perk brings and he’s been around us all this time. He was one of our off-the-court leaders.

“It’s something that we’re going to have to put behind us. We gotta work with what’s in the room and just play basketball. No more crying over spilled milk. We had a day for that. Now it’s time to play. I think Nenad Krstic is more than capable.’’

Rondo is going to take longer to make the transition. He is notoriously stubborn and that undoubtedly will be the case here. But he can’t take too long. Title No. 18 could be waiting.

“Time,’’ was Rondo’s response when asked how he will recover and proceed. “Got no choice.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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