By Ian Thomsen
It didn’t involve Carmelo Anthony or Deron Williams, but the most important trade of the NBA’s deadline week involved the Boston Celtics. They broke up their championship frontcourt for a variety of reasons – contractual, the perimeter threat of LeBron James and a looming future of rebuilding in the absence of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
By packaging Kendrick Perkins (along with Nate Robinson) for hybrid forward Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic at the deadline Thursday, Boston was retrieving value for Perkins. Their 26-year-old center was going to be an expensive free agent this summer – probably too expensive for the Celtics, who face obligations next season totaling $57 million for Garnett, Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
The Thunder faced the same difficulty with Green, who declined to sign an extension with Oklahoma City earlier this season. The Thunder couldn’t be certain which role Green might play on a championship team in future years – but they have no doubt of Perkins’s value. They had spent years and several draft picks searching for a young center to provide defensive leadership and toughness, and now they have their answer in Perkins. He gives them the nastiness that can help them elevate their defense and escape their reputation as a finesse team. They’ll be happy to invest in Perkins this summer as their third core piece alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and in the short term he could help them advance in the Western Conference playoffs.
How much will the Celtics miss Perkins? They lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals at Los Angeles without him after he suffered a major injury in Game 6, and they spent this summer acquiring big men to help control the boards against the Lakers. Now Jermaine O’Neal is an uncertain playoff contributor following midseason surgery, Perkins and 6-11 rookie backup center Semih Erden (dealt in a roster-clearing move Thursday) are gone, and all of a sudden they are highly dependent on Shaquille O’Neal to recover from his current Achilles injury and be healthy going into the playoffs.
Will Perkins’ departure hurt Boston in the East? He was able to play one-on-one against Dwight Howard, but the Celtics have reason to be confident in a series against the newly reconstructed Magic, who have yet to develop title-worthy chemistry around their center. Neither Miami nor Chicago has a high scoring center to exploit Perkins’ absence, so perhaps the Celtics are acting on a gamble that they can make it back to the Finals without him.
Green provides a provocative twist to Boston’s rotation. The Celtics were badly in need of a backup small forward to help Pierce deal with LeBron James, and the 6-foot-9 Green will be able to fill that role. Green can play both forward positions, and if the Celtics can find the money to invest in him, then they probably will consider him an upgrade over Glen “Big Baby” Davis, which will free them from making a long-term commitment to the big man.
The second part of the equation for Boston is the status of potential buyout candidates, led by 6-11 power forward Troy Murphy. He is a rebounder with three-point range who could help the Celtics on the boards. But will the arrival of Green create competition for minutes that could convince Murphy to sign with the Heat? Miami is Murphy’s other top choice, according to a league source. His decision may be a tipping advantage for the team that is able to acquire him.
A flurry of other deals were completed at the deadline Thursday. Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams arrived to the Knicks and Nets, respectively, to launch what could become a dramatic rivalry for control of the New York market. But both of those teams will need time to construct fully-formed rosters around the newly acquired stars.
The Suns will face renewed speculation this summer that Steve Nash will be on the market after their trade for Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks; in turn the Rockets embarked on a potential restructuring around Hasheem Thabeet, the former No. 2 pick of the Grizzlies who could someday turn into the replacement at center for Yao Ming.
In the meantime, the Grizzlies – who are hoping to seize a playoff spot at the expense of the Jazz and Nuggets — improved their perimeter defense by acquiring Battier’s expiring contract from Houston in exchange for Thabeet. They almost sent O.J. Mayo to the Pacers for Josh McRoberts and a first-round pick, before the deal fell through.
A couple of second-tier playoff teams made moves to improve their chances as well. The Trail Blazers landed hyperactive small forward Gerald Wallace from Charlotte for center Joel Przybilla, two picks and Dante Cunningham, signaling that Portland is more interested in making the most of this overachieving roster than scaling back to rebuild for future years. Even more intriguing was the Hawks’ acquisition of Kirk Hinrich and big man Hilton Armstrong from the Wizards, who were compensated with a package that included rookie Jordan Crawford, Mike Bibby and Maurice Evans. The Hawks needed inspiration, and Hinrich’s toughness and defense could give them a newfound edge in the playoffs.
But no move will have bigger implications than the Celtics’ decision to deal Perkins. Will Green, Krstic and (potentially) Murphy be able to fill in? What will be the new identity of the Celtics now that their front line has been diminished? More questions than answers were created by this provocative deadline day.