There was a lot of speculation about the Miami Heat in the final hours prior to the 2 p.m. trade deadline on Feb. 24. Most felt that the Heat would perhaps deal Mike Miller for a point guard, or a package of Mario Chalmers and Miller for another big like Troy Murphy.
But when the dust settled, Pat Riley stayed...well, pat, choosing not to pull the trigger on a trade until he saw how his team fared this season.
It may have been the best decision he could have made, because the Boston Celtics, currently the favorite to advance to the finals for the third time in four years, just dealt their biggest weapon against the Heat, shipping center Kendrick Perkins, who is only 12 games into his return to the team after off-season knee surgery.
Granted, the Celtics do get a bit more offense and rebounding from Jeff Green in the trade, along with a bit of size in Nenad Krstic, but neither of these players are the defensive intimidators that Perkins is. Without him, the Celtics put a lot of pressure on the O'Neals (Shaq and Jermaine), whose brittle bodies have had trouble remaining on the court for longer than a few games at a time this season, to deliver big time in the playoffs.
Five years ago, that was a risk well worth taking. Right now, I'm not so sure.
To be fair, the Celtics are still going to be the team to beat until they are bounced from the playoffs. But I can't see how a trade that moves one of the games best defensive centers will benefit a team that will have to face Dwight Howard (no one guarded him one-on-one better than Perkins), Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer (who are back together again after each was faced with an injury) and the Miami Heat (whose stars, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were clearly affected by Perkins's tough interior defense on their dribble penetration).
Each of them could pose tremendous problems for Boston's suddenly weaker interior defense.
The Celtics also dealt Nate Robinson as well, so apparently Celtics GM Danny Ainge has the utmost confidence in both Rondo's health and his ability to play heavy minutes well into the playoffs, as he is the only pure point guard on the Celtics.
Granted, they still have the prospect of Delonte West returning soon, but he is not much of a playmaker or defender. Anyone who watched him being taken apart by the Orlando Magic backcourt in the 2009 playoffs when he played for the Cavaliers can attest to the fact that he is a good player in spurts, but is a career underachiever in the post-season.
So the big winner in this deal appears to be the Miami Heat. It watched as the Celtics traded away two of their biggest assets against them in the previous meeting, and unless Krstic can become that defensive force in the middle (I don't know about that), one of their biggest challengers in the East has taken a bit of a backwards step in my opinion.
On the other hand, perhaps Ainge knows better than his critics do, and he must, because if the Celtics lose prematurely in the postseason due to this trade, it may be remembered as the incident that broke the Celtics' title hopes rather than old age.
At least Doc Rivers's rally cry from last year's playoffs will remain unchallenged: The Celtics will have never lost a playoff series with their full 2008 roster intact.