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Deconstructing the Kendrick Perkins myth

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  March 3, 2011 03:16 PM

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The final judgment on the trade of Kendrick Perkins won't be rendered until the days of wind chills and winter coats are a memory. Check back in June to see if the Legend of Perk grows or fades.

Today marks a week from when an audacious Danny Ainge packaged Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green (plus a top-10-protected first-round pick). Save for a shellshocked, shorthanded loss in Denver, the Celtics have not lost after losing Perkins, winning three of four, including last night's 115-103 slapdown of the Suns, a game in which all five starters, including Krstic (13 points, 4 rebounds), scored in double figures.

Hopefully by now cooler heads have prevailed among the parishioners of the parquet, most of whom went off the deep end, Sheen-style upon hearing of Perk's departure.

Their visceral reaction was based on a myth -- that Perkins torn ACL-caused absence cost the Celtics the NBA title last year. The story goes -- and with each passing month and fading memory the gospel grows -- that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum abused the undermanned and undersized Celtics on the boards in the decisive Game 7 in LA without Perkins's rugged presence to protect the rim. It remained the primary argument against the trade.

Even I bought into it initially.

In a weird way the greatest thing that ever happened to Perkins's career was missing Game 7 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Game 6. As painful as it was for him to watch his team lose from the bench, it cemented his legacy as a Celtic because it created the Game 7 myth.

While Perkins certainly would have helped against the Lakers it is a tremendous oversimplification to attribute that disappointing defeat solely and exclusively to his unavailability. The Celtics built a 13-point lead without him. They held the Lakers to 32.5 percent shooting from the field without him. They possessed the lead with 6:29 to go without him.

Would Perkins's presence have prevented Ray Allen, who knocked knees with Ron Artest earlier in the series, from shooting 3 of 14, or stopped Paul Pierce from going 2 of 9 in the second half? We should ascribe the fact that Kevin Garnett, a player who once won four straight rebounding titles, finished the game with a career-playoff low three rebounds primarily to Perkins?

The truth is that if either A) Rasheed Wallace had not been wheezing through the second half like a chain-smoker forced to run a 5K or B) the Celtics had another warm-blooded, seven-foot body (or even Jermaine O'Neal) to sub in they would have won. 'Sheed gave the Celtics 11 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in 36 minutes before fouling out/succumbing to exhaustion. Perkins averaged 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in the six games he played in during the series. He never recorded a block.

Another myth is Bynum's role in Game 7. The Celtics were outrebounded 53-40 and the Lakers had 23 offensive rebounds, nine from Gasol, who finished with 19 points and 18 boards. But Bynum collected just 2 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes. Perkins was missing in action that night and so was he.

The second-leading rebounder for LA that evening was Kobe Bryant (15). Doubt Perk would have been guarding him.

The same circumstances that made Perkins look so good here when he was on the court -- playing with four All-Stars -- also made him look indispensable that night when he wasn't on it, and they didn't perform. With the Big Three misfiring, Perkins's absence and intangibles became all the more glaring.

This is not to discredit or diminish completely Perkins's contributions to the Celtics over the last three-plus seasons. He turned himself into a tremendous teammate/role player and an excellent defense player. His work ethic and toughness were above reproach. A self-made NBA man, he far exceeded my expectations as a player, and he is deserving of the four-year, $34.8 million contract the Thunder rewarded him with, a contract the Celtics couldn't afford to give him under the current CBA. He's exactly what Oklahoma City needed, and I wish Perk nothing but luck and slam dunks in OKC.

And, yes, it is a little disconcerting that the Celtics so willingly sacrificed the championship chemistry they had, their single biggest advantage over Miami's Millionaire Mercenaries, aka, the Heat.

But...the Celtics are winning and can win it all without Perk. For the same reasons, they won with him. Anyone who is playing with four All-Stars is going to have their strengths accentuated and their weaknesses diminished. In Perkins's case, playing with the Core Four made him look Moses Malone-esque at times as a defender and rebounder and disguised the fact that he was a limited and predictable offensive player and a below-average finisher.

In the case of Krstic, whom most assumed was the B.E.S. (Big European Stiff) tax for getting Green, playing with the Core Four has done the same. It has hidden his aversion to physical contract, made him appear to be a more proficient defensive player and offensive rebounder than he is and accentuated his obvious offensive skills. Krstic looks like a poor man's Bill Walton in Green, running the pick and roll, moving without the ball, displaying some nifty post-up moves and drilling 16-foot jumpers.

He already catches Rondo's bullet passes better than Perk ever did.

Is Krstic, averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds in three games in Green, this good of a center? Heck, no. But he's playing with a quartet of All-Stars, thus objects appear more talented than they are.

The same was true of Perkins.

If the Celtics had won Game 7 without Perk there wouldn't have been a near Egyptian-uprising about his trade. But they didn't, and so the Legend of Perk was born.

The Celtics already deconstructed a potential championship team by trading Perkins. Winning without him will deconstruct the myth.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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