Nearly a week removed now from the Celtics’ shocking trade of Kendrick Perkins, we’re finally ready to put away our Jumping To Conclusions mat and offer what passes for a relatively well-considered opinion:
It’s working out for Perk.
It’s working out pretty well for the Celtics, too.
All right, not the deepest of thoughts there — nuanced insight like that almost qualifies me to yap about the NBA on ESPN. But given the online caterwauling (Twitterwauling?) that accompanied the news of Danny Ainge’s deal that sent Perk and Nate Robinson to the Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Kristic and a draft pick, I think that passes as reasoned analysis.
Plus, it’s the truth.
In case you’re boycotting the Celtics for making your No. 43 jersey obsolete and haven’t stayed up to date on the ledger, here’s how it looks at this moment, pending any breaking news about another interesting buyout acquisition.
Departures: Perkins, Nate Robinson, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody.
Arrivals: Jeff Green, Troy Murphy, Nenad Kristic, a lottery-protected No. 1 pick from the Clippers, and the Cavaliers’ second-rounder next year.
After checking the math, it looks like it all adds up to a win for Ainge and the Celtics, especially after beating out the Heat for Murphy, the sharp-shooting big man with a knack for collecting defensive rebounds. And for all of his disappointment about being dealt by the Celtics, Perk himself has to feel like he won, too, after agreeing to terms on a four-year extension yesterday in the neighborhood of $34 million. Just imagine what the Thunder might think he’s worth once he actually plays for them.
Facetiousness aside, if there’s a player you’re glad to see get paid, it’s Perk. Around here, we remember him arriving eight years ago (has it really been that long?) as a raw 18-year-old with the body of a weekend warrior. We watched him literally reshape himself into an integral part of a championship team — some might say a beast. He’s earned everything that has come to him, including his new contract.
Perk, whose perpetual scowl on the court belied his gentle nature off it, was an essential grunt who accepted his role amid a quartet of stars. And he was our essential grunt. Watching an admirable player get sent away so suddenly — with the crushing kicker that he cried upon hearing the news — was a cold reminder of the ruthlessness of professional sports.
There was a lot we didn’t get when the news dropped. Why mess with a good thing and trade a starter from arguably the favorite from Eastern Conference to get to the Finals? In 2007, Perk was the closest thing our generation knew to the 1976 version of Paul Silas, and an 18th banner may very well be hanging at the Garden had his knee not given out in Game 6 of the Finals last year. Why take away proven kryptonite to Dwight Howard, not to mention someone who surely would have delivered a message with a well-timed elbow in Pau Gasol’s ribs or throat or beard during his 18-rebound Game 7?
I admire and enjoy this team as much as any Celtic team since the late ’80s. Yes, 2007-08 had the confetti ending, but there was still a slight mercenary vibe to that team. With all that has happened since — the memories that come from hard-fought wins, the highlights and records, the injuries that must be overcome, the relentless determination to avenge last year’s crushing final scene — there is a rich history here now for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett; they are our guys now. And with this wonderful team’s core, save for Rondo, on the wrong side of 30, they know their chances for a second title are dwindling. There is a collective determination about this crew that borders on desperation. I want that to be rewarded. I want to see this team win a championship more than any other current team in Boston.
So to see one of the more estimable among them go was a lousy, confusing feeling, and that probably explained better than anything else the instant backlash against Ainge for staggering us with this deal. But the ferocity of the reaction, and the consensus that Ainge got hosed by savvy Thunder general manager Sam Presti . . . well, that caught me off-guard perhaps even more than than the actual trade.
Part of that, admittedly, is because I’m an unabashed Ainge admirer; I trust his personnel moves on the same level that I do those of Theo Epstein and Bill Belichick. I don’t hold the early LaFrentzes and Telfairs from early in his regime against him — when you take over a team that considers Mark Blount a core player, the situation is just north of hopeless. It’s worth taking a shot at unfulfilled promise. Ainge did, it didn’t work, but he eventually got the formula right. In the NBA, with the salary cap, that’s no easy task unless you’re lucky in the lottery. And he wasn’t even that.
He deserves praise for orchestrating the Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett deals (assist, McHale), for hiring Doc Rivers (the Terry Francona of the NBA) as his head coach and sticking with him, for spotting something special in Rondo that others missed (he was picked nineteen spots after Adam Morrison, 17 spots after Shelden Williams, and 13 spots after Patrick O’Bryant, for heaven’s sake), and for continually recognizing helpful talent after the lottery is complete, from Al Jefferson to Delonte West to Tony Allen to Perk to Big Baby to Ryan Gomes to Leon Powe to Bill Walker to Semih Erden. You get the drift; he gets the draft.
Ainge’s record the last five years or so suggests that giving him the benefit of the doubt is an effective way to look like you know what you’re talking about. In retrospect, the question shouldn’t have been, “What the bleepity-bleep is Ainge doing trading Perk?” It should have been, “What does Ainge know that we don’t that convinced him to do this?”
In retrospect, some evidence didn’t require much unearthing. With his knee issues (not to mention the past shoulder problems gruesome enough to make Martin Riggs wince), Perkins might be the oldest 26-year-old in the NBA. For all of his hard work, it’s reasonable to presume he’s plateaued as a player, and he has undeniably regressed offensively. Having turned down the Celtics’ four-year, $22 million offer, that it was very unlikely that he was going to re-sign here next year. Ainge saw an opportunity to send him out West to a team that coveted him while getting back a young, potential core player in Green who could help immediately and five years down the road as well as a capable big man in Kristic. While we all cringe at the thought of relying on the aging, aching pair of O’Neals to remain healthy, you simply must give Ainge credit for having the Spauldings to make such a deal.
Perk’s basketball home is in Oklahoma City now, and we can feel good about rooting for him on a likable Thunder team that plays in the other conference. He’ll be missed, but the team he leaves behind is deeper and more versatile than it was when he was here. Advanced metrics suggest Green is overrated, that he was the least-efficient member of the Thunder; his pedigree, offensive versatility and your eyes suggest he can help, particularly once he gets used to playing with Rondo. Kristic, a useful big man for someone treated as an afterthought in the deal, can knock down a jumper and has shown an early inclination here to hit the offensive boards.
And yesterday’s newcomer, Murphy? Maybe he can steal a meaningful game along the way with his shooting. He’s not P.J. Brown when it comes to toughness, but he’s a vastly superior alternative to past stonehanded backup bigs Mikki Moore and Shelden Williams. Keeping him from becoming a backup singer for LeBron and D-Wade in Miami is just an added bonus.
So as the at last story advances, one question remains: what’s left on Ainge’s agenda? The player I’d want above all other newcomers and possibilities — including perhaps Green — is Corey Brewer, whom Gary Washburn says is the Celtics’ next target. He’s hasn’t lived up to his billing as the seventh pick of the 2007 draft — he’s just a 40.6 percent shooter in his career — but he’s 6-foot-9, still only 24 years old, and would instantly become the Celtics’ best perimeter defender. There’s hope for him yet. Getting him at this stage of his career might someday be looked back upon as a coup.
If there’s a place for him, I’d be thrilled to see Leon Powe back, too. I don’t know if he can play anymore — he struggled to get on the court in Cleveland, and you have to wonder if the chronic knee problems will prevent him from handling the rigors of the NBA much longer. But for sentimentality’s sake I hope he’s back in green when all of the dealing is done. Powe is very easy to root for . . .
. . . yes, just like Perk. And root for Perk we will, right up until the moment — and this daydream could become reality, you know — that he jumps center against Shaq or KG to tip off Game 1 of the Finals.
Then, the Celtics who were so saddened to see him go can pay him an ironic bit of homage:
Beat him to win the championship. Then award him the Celtics championship ring the man will have earned long before it’s won.