Danny Ainge's legacy as President of Basketball Operations for the Boston Celtics will be forever remembered for his transformation of a roster that produced the second worst record in the NBA in 2007 to World Champions in 2008. Ainge completed a pair of blockbuster deals for veteran all-stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during an offseason that began with NBA Draft Lottery disappointment. As we know, those moves paid off, and the Celtics have been perennial contenders ever since.
Ainge has never been one to shy away from making bold trades. However, the "gambler" may have jeopardized the Celtics 2011 campaign by dealing away their interior defensive anchor and best rebounder Kendrick Perkins at the trade deadline. On paper the trade doesn't look bad. Perkins was coming off major knee surgery and he was facing another two weeks on the mend with another leg injury. Offensively, the lumbering Perkins has never been an offensive force, and clearly the fifth scoring option on the starting five.
With both Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal out indefinitely, the Celtics were lacking depth in the post positions and something needed to be done to bolster this growing concern, reduce minutes for Garnett and provide an additional option to the vertically challenged Glen Davis. The Celtics were also looking to add a scoring option off the bench and backup for Paul Pierce.
So Ainge made the move, that most in his position wouldn't dare make. He traded Perkins (along with under performing backup guard Nate Robinson), a banged up but still productive center, in late February from a team that owned the best record in the Eastern Conference. In return came a better offensive yet less gritty center in the form of Nenad Krstic and talented small forward Jeff Green. On paper, in terms of pure talent, it was a good trade...if it was made in the offseason. The Celtics have been missing something intangible since that trade. Defensive swagger, an interior presence, rebounding and most importantly—team chemistry, especially on the second unit.
Clearly, the Celtics were off-target in forecasting the return of Shaquille O'Neal, and while Green and Krstic were learning their new roles with their new team, the C's dropped from first to third in the Eastern Conference, and valuable home court advantage and playoff positioning went out the TD Garden door.
I commend Ainge for being busy at the trade deadline. After all, this year has been coined by many as "one last run" at a title for this core group. However, I suggest making lesser moves that wouldn't drastically jeopardize chemistry on a team that was in good position to win the East as constituted. In 2008, Ainge brought in veterans Sam Cassel and P.J. Brown late in the season. Two minor acquisitions that paid off big in key spots during the playoffs.
At this point, Shaq is unreliable and JO appears to be playing at less than full throttle. So who would you rather have in the post defending the likes of Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Chris Bosh and if they reach the Finals, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum? Perkins or Krstic? While the Celtics have been scrambling to find their identity over the past seven weeks, the Heat and the Bulls have been gaining momentum as the playoffs approach.
Yes. Fans in Boston have overreacted since the trade. Kendrick Perkins is not irreplaceable, and it was becoming clear that this would be his last year in Boston, after he turned down an offseason extension offer by the Celtics. But wasn't this season about this season? Doc came back. Pierce and Allen re-signed. And the O'Neals were signed as re-enforcements.
I strongly believe that the Celtics would have danced on the Staples Center hardwood and beat L.A. in game seven of the Finals last year if Perkins was in uniform. And I'd feel a lot better about the Celtics' chances this year with him as well...at least for one last run.