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For whatever reason, the Celtics haven’t been the same team since they traded Kendrick Perkins.
The easy answer to this reversal of fortune is that in the trade, Boston lost part of their attitude, their swagger. Perkins was a beast for them—not in terms of statistics, but in terms of intimidation, testicular fortitude, and overall scariness.
However, the other answer is that by trading Perkins, the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo’s best friend on the team. For a player who has been described as quiet, introverted, and sensitive, losing a close teammate isn’t just a business. It is personal. And like anyone who has had their best friend shipped out of town, it could become the impetus for an attitude change. In Rondo’s case, this was a decidedly bad thing.
Not only have the Celtics been a different team since the trade, but Rondo has been a different player. And for Boston, a great Rondo vs. a good Rondo is the difference between a great team and a good team.
At the beginning of this season, Rondo wasn’t just good, he was historic. He dished out 151 assists in his first 10 games. Not coincidentally, the Celtics were looking like a juggernaut at 8-2. But after the trade, he has not been the same. In his last 10 games, he has contributed only 84 assists.
In those games, the Celtics are 5-5.
But beyond statistics, Rondo, and the Celtics in general, have looked despondent. Previously, there was an air of invincibility among the team; an intrinsic knowledge that they were better than anyone. This primarily came from Kevin Garnett, but Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Perkins and Shaq all had it too.
For the first time in his career, Rajon Rondo was exhibiting this same swagger. Now, it seems to have evaporated.
Rondo is vital to the Celtics because when he is great, they are great. When he is good, they are good. If he can elevate his game, the Celtics must be considered prohibitive title favorites.
If he cannot, Celtics fans will have to somehow find a way to deal with life with only 17 championships.