The Celtics couldn't finish off the Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals, couldn't muscle up to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol without the backbone of their defense, Kendrick Perkins. Now, Boston will be chasing a title with the same massive hole in the middle of their team.
The reason? Business. With their other four starters under contract to the tune of $57 million next season, there was going to be no money -- no cap space in this unknown cap-space world -- for a 26-year-old, 6-foot-10 center whose physical and emotional presence might've won the title for Boston last June in Game 7 against the Lakers.
Now, Doc Rivers embarks on the rest of the regular season and playoffs without Perkins after the Celtics pulled off one more stunner at the trade deadline, sending Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a 2012 first-round pick. It wasn't a deal that was about being scared of a superstar looking to leave. But it was a rare deadline trade that could dramatically alter not just the playoff race, but the championship race in each conference.
|Kendrick Perkins makes a difference in Boston's Feb. 13 tilt with the Heat, scoring 15 in the Celts' 85-82 win. (Getty Images)|
Rarer indeed to trade one, but such is the state of flux in the East. The Magic look vulnerable, but the Bulls have an electrifying young talent in Derrick Rose, while the Knicks are more formidable -- and young, too. The Celtics are getting older, and the only way to keep the window open beyond this season for the Big Four -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo -- was to part with the player who held them all together. Rivers watches his emotional glue guy, one of his five favorite players he's ever coached, leave because business must be done with one eye on the trophy and one on the future.
A risk? Absolutely, but one the Celtics had to take. What happens in a new labor agreement is anybody's guess, but one possibility league general managers were considering Thursday as they wrestled with the risks and rewards of the trade market was an outright contractual bloodbath, sources said. Four months from now, or whenever the lockout ends, the league could be littered with free agents who were key components of playoff or even championship-contending teams. The Celtics got out in front of that risk with Perkins and got some capable pieces in return. They also made themselves a factor in the potentially massive free-agent summer of 2012, when they'll have only three players under contract -- Pierce, Rondo and potentially Avery Bradley.
Green, who Oklahoma City was not going to retain as a restricted free agent -- if such a thing still exists -- next summer after being unable to negotiate an extension with the 2007 first-round pick, gives Boston some much needed wing help off the bench. Krstic gives Rivers both another body to work into his frontcourt rotation and insurance against the uncertain health of the two O'Neals, Shaq and Jermaine. The first-round pick of 2012 has more value in the eyes of most GMs because of the strong possibility that underclassmen will stay away from the 2011 draft as the league faces a lockout.
The plan for the Celtics is to not stop there. If the team succeeds in landing forward Troy Murphy after he's bought out by Golden State, Boston will have another capable rebounder and skilled offensive frontcourt player to help ease the pain of Perkins' departure. Murphy will consider the Celtics, Magic, Heat and Knicks, according to sources. If he winds up in Boston, Rivers gets more flexibility: Krstic at center with Garnett at power forward and Murphy off the bench, or Garnett at center with Murphy at the four.
|NBA Trade Deadline|
For the Thunder, GM Sam Presti did it again. He found something you can almost never find -- a near 7-footer in his prime on a reasonable contract, with the payroll flexibility to sign him long-term whatever the new rules wind up being. But Presti did more than that. His long-term plan of building with youth, draft picks and cap space has suddenly collided with the potential for a substantial short-term reward.
Even with an undersized lineup against the biggest frontcourt in the league, the Thunder put a scare into the Lakers in the first round last spring. Imagine if they had a rugged, athletic, legitimate center -- one who has banged bodies with the Lakers in a championship series before.
If and when these teams meet again, it won't be in the first round. It'll be deeper into the playoffs, and the Thunder suddenly have a weapon they didn't have during their surprising 50-win season a year ago. Oklahoma City is currently fourth in the West, with the third (Lakers) or even possibly second (Dallas) seeds within reach. Of the teams jockeying for playoff position, only the Hornets (getting Carl Landry), Trail Blazers (Gerald Wallace) and Grizzlies (Shane Battier) improved. Among those, only New Orleans has a chance of catching the Thunder -- and it's debatable how much better Landry makes them.
As far as star power and overall ability, nobody topped the Knicks (Carmelo Anthony) and Nets (Deron Williams) at the deadline. But those building blocks arrive with teams that are still being built. Presti accomplished the rare feat of adding a key, championship-caliber piece to a roster that is otherwise complete. Oh, and that piece also happens to be almost 7 feet tall. From one conference to the other at the deadline, Perkins could wind up being one of the biggest keys again in June.