Tell me: when?
Make no mistake, Danny Ainge shook the ground yesterday with the news that the Celtics had dealt away Perkins, their starting center, in a trading deadline maneuver that, under the circumstances, qualified as a significant shakeup. Almost nobody saw it coming. Perkins was a member of the championship team here in 2007-08 and one of the few young Celtics who endured Ainge's ultimate makeover, a cataclysmic event that had many Celtics fans screaming about the departure of Al Jefferson.Then the Celtics went 66-16 en route to their 17th title while Jefferson dissolved into the relative muddle of mediocrity (at best) that houses the large majority of teams in the NBA.
We all liked Perkins. We still do. We like his toughness and his work ethic, his intensity and his defense. Perkins was a good man to have on a team built around Hall of Famers, if for no other reason than the fact that he was willing to do much of the dirty work. And yet, somewhere between there and here, the perception of him as a vital ingredient has reached levels of utter silliness.
The guy ain't exactly Kareem in the low post, folks. Given those hands of his, you'd be bold to entrust him with the responsibility of holding your precious newborn. Guys like Perkins are relatively ordinary commodities in the NBA, which is why the Celtics offered him a four-year deal worth a reported $22 million earlier this season. When Perkins turned it down, we should have known then that he viewed himself as something more than the replaceable role player he is.
Seriously. Do you really believe Perkins to be a $10 million player? If you do, you're thinking with your heart more than your head. And as we all know, Ainge is hardly the sentimental type.
As for Game 7 of last year's NBA Finals, it has somehow become an accepted fact that the Celtics would have defeated the Lakers had Perkins been healthy. Of course, this is both highly speculative and completely unfounded. Perkins certainly would have helped negate the Celtics' rebounding issues against the Lakers, but he also would have been a complete liability in what was, at times, a grossly stagnant half-court offense. To suggest that the Celtics lost that series on the boards in an overly simplistic attempt to justify defeat. Far more worrisome in that series was Boston's ineptitude in the half-court.
Go back and look. The Lakers beat the Celtics at their own game, by digging in and playing ferocious defense when it mattered. The Lakers averaged 90.6 points per game in the series. The Celtics averaged 87.1, including a whopping 73 in the final two games. When the Celtics broke 90 in the series, they won. When they didn't, they lost. Defense and rebounding weren't the real problems. Offense was.
Which is why, as we all know, Ainge went out and picked up Shaquille O'Neal during the offseason. The idea was to give the Celtics an offensive presence in the low post, someone to create better floor spacing and open looks for Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and others. The plan worked beautifully through the early part of the season. But then Shaq went down and Perkins came back, and everyone started buying into a refrain that Doc Rivers continued to sell right up through the Game 7 loss to the Lakers.
You know, we still haven't lost a playoff series when our starting five has been intact.
To his credit, Phil Jackson threw those words in the Celtics' faces yesterday ¬- "They go down as never having lost a playoff series," said the typically insufferable Jackson - because that assertion is now what it was then: an excuse. Nobody in Boston lamented the absence of Andrew Bynum when the Celtics cleaned up on the Lakers in June 2008. The Lakers were the better team last year, just as the Celtics were in 2008, and there is no point in crying or rationalizing. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Deal with it.
If the Celtics are to miss Perkins this season and beyond - and in some areas, they will - the loss might seem most noticeable in any meeting with Orlando, if only because Perkins historically has done a commendable job on Dwight Howard. Of course, nobody was talking about Perkins' defense when Orlando came here earlier this month, a 91-80 Celtics victory in which Howard totaled 28 points and 13 rebounds while Perkins went scoreless. The Celtics nearly defeated the Magic in the 2008-09 playoffs without Kevin Garnett and they will defeat them now without Perkins because they have a better, deeper team than Orlando does.
A title? That is open the debate, just as it was two days ago. Perkins played 31 minutes against the Lakers on Feb. 10, at the Garden, and the Celtics lost 92-86. San Antonio is loaded. Pending buyouts and further maneuvers, the Celtics are still the best team in the Eastern Conference, just as they were Tuesday, and there is every chance they will be better from Thursday's dealings.
Lest anyone forget, recent Boston history is spotted with aggressive, unexpected maneuverings that turned out quite well after being met with public outcry. Theo Epstein traded both Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez at the trading deadline, getting the Red Sox a World Series title on the first occasion and advancing them to Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series on the second. Bill Belichick cut Lawyer Milloy in 2003 and the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. Last year, Belichick traded Randy Moss and the Patriots went a shocking 14-2.
In the grand scheme of things, despite the response of many, the Kendrick Perkins deal is not nearly as stunning as those moves were.
And while there is still every chance that the Celtics will not win a championship this year, let's get this out there right now:
If they lose, it won't be because they missed Kendrick Perkins.
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