Friday, February 25, 2011

Celtics Deadline Deal Has Many Angles

For years I approached the trade deadline like a basketball holiday where surprise deals would loom, blockbusters would occur out of championship desperation and ultimately most deals would fall apart at the final hour but yesterday and the 48 hours prior were different. With the star power movement and the magnifying glass on the teams involved in the deals that occurred I expected the Boston Celtics who sit atop the eastern conference despite an injury riddled bench that is vital to their run at Banner 18 to add a small piece as in an Anthony Parker or Shane Battier to play behind both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Never did I see this coming.

I have respected and believed in Danny Ainge since the moment he took over in the spring of 2003 following a 2nd round thrashing by the NJ Nets where their team was exposed as one that as currently assembled would not have a shot at a championship. Despite harsh blow back from fans and the high and mighty Boston media Ainge brought in Doc Rivers and blew up the roster. No need to again retrace what occurred after that as we have all lived through it and despite some dark days before the summer of 2007 I always believed in Danny Ainge, because like Kendrick Perkins, Danny has always been, a Celtic.

So we have two sides to this deal yesterday, and if you choose to look deeper afterwards, two sides to each side. Kendrick Perkins was without a doubt the very valuable side-kick that Kevin Garnett worked so well with on the defensive side of the court that provided toughness, terrific post defense and the swagger that is so recognizable with the Celtics. He was a valued teammate and a guy that grew from a raw high school prodigy from Texas to a trusted member of one of the best teams in the post Jordan NBA era. We have all played the, what if game regarding Perkins and Game 7 of the NBA finals last season. What if he did not injury his knee in game 6? Would we have won game 7? Would Perk have been the difference? Unfortunately the team, all of the fans and worst of all Kendrick Perkins will never know that answer.

His motivation to rehab and come back a better player was clear from day one of training camp. The Celtics did what they had to do by adding the O’Neal’s who besides one tremendous stretch from Shaq have been as reliable as the New York City snow removal process this winter. Then, before anyone could believe it, Kendrick Perkins was at the scorer’s table early in the first quarter at the garden earlier this month about to check himself into the game against the Cavs. WOW! Perk is back before the all-star game! Damn, I got up off the couch and cracked a beer as the crowd showed him much deserved love with a monster ovation.

PERK was back!!! No need to worry about Jermaine’s bad knee or Shaq taking his mid season siesta, we had our glue guy back upfront. The guy that completed that special lineup that together had not lost a postseason series. Perkins was the guy that could guard Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan without even making you think you had to double down on the post. He was also the guy that along with Garnett put everyone on blast; this is our paint, period. But as teams started to add different pieces and as the hole began to widen in terms of the Celtics needing to add a versatile perimeter player to assist Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on both ends, specifically in potentially dealing with both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony this post season the talents and high ceiling of adding someone like Jeff Green to the Celtics became very appealing. There are two other factors here, first of which that Perkins is a free agent at the end of this season and will be asking for somewhere between $8-$10 million per year, as he turned down a modest offer from the Celtics during his rehab process which was in the range of 4 years and $22-$25 million. To have Perkins test the open market and either drive the price up or risk losing him started to become a very dangerous thought to Danny Ainge and the Celtics. Then again, wasn’t this season supposed to be about Banner 18 and only Banner 18?

Then we have the ceiling of Kendrick Perkins as a player. Yes, he rehabbed the hell out of his knee like an Israeli special forces op getting himself ready to hunt Hamas but how much better of a player can and will Kendrick Perkins become over the course of his career. To me Perkins will continue to develop himself as a respectable starting center that gets it done based on his toughness, smarts and ability to be a piece to a terrific Celtics puzzle.

Then look at Jeff Green. Green is a multi talented forward that can play both the 3 and 4, score with his back to the basket and from deep despite his decrease in three-point percentage this season from last. He was in the closing lineup for the Thunder in every big game they have played between this season and last, and by all accounts is a team guy that at 24 years old doesn’t yet have a ceiling.

For a moment lets pretend there is no lock out next season and things resolve themselves. The Celtics will still have Rondo, Allen, Pierce, KG, Shaq, Davis, West (he owes his NBA life to the Celtics, though not yet under contract) and Green coming back for the 2011-2012 season. Then in the summer of 2012 only Rondo and Pierce will remain on the payroll, though you can likely add Green to that as well. That puts the Celtics in position to make a run at someone like a Dwight Howard while offering KG and Allen one last deal each if they so chose to keep playing in an effort to raise more banners as Celtics.

The late 1980’s and early 1990’s Celtics were haunted by the death of Len Bias and Red Auerbach refusing to move any of the old big three in order to rebuild the team on the fly, and you know what, I agree with what Red did because not one of those players should have ever worn another uniform, though the Chief ultimately did as he chose to stay in the league a few too many years. Danny Ainge was the guy that was traded in 1989, to Sacramento for Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, two younger, role-playing frontcourt players that provided depth behind Bird, Parish and McHale. With the emergence of Reggie Lewis in the backcourt it was a deal that Red had to make, though it was a very difficult one at that.

Fast forward 22 years and Danny had to look down the gun barrel kind of like the bank robber in “Dirty Harry” laying on that San Francisco street with a bullet hole in his shoulder looking up at Detective Harry Callahan who just shot him. But in this case Danny is both characters. Did Danny fire six shots or only five? Did he lose track of himself in all this excitement? Or maybe he just felt lucky? Well, did you Danny?

The thought of making a run at Banner 18 and winning it without Kendrick Perkins is something I never thought I’d have to consider or even crazier, experience in the near future as a life long Celtics fan and basketball junkie that cares more about this team than any other team, ever, in my history as a sports fan. This team is a family on and off the court. To lose a key piece is not just something felt on the court under the bright lights but off of it as well which was evident by the comments made by Pierce, Allen and Garnett following last nights loss in Denver.

At the end of the day, looking at both the chance to get back to the finals and at the same time keep this magic Celtics victory ride going past the careers of Garnett, Allen and Pierce this could be a move that the Celtics and their fans thank Danny Ainge for making both this spring and for years to come. Today the Celtics fans are up in arms about this, as bloggers, writers and all the local and national talking heads for the most part are ripping the move. But for those that pay attention and understand what is happening on the floor between lines the Celtics definitely needed more versatility when looking at who they would be battling this post season in a quest for Banner 18. With the Orlando Magic fading and the Bulls and Heat both on the Celtics heels this deal may, just may, have saved the Celtics. Remember in 2008 when the Celtics ended almost every big win with KG, Pierce, Allen, Posey and either Rondo or House on the floor? The floor was spread, you couldn’t sag off of people or else the Celtics would slice you up. Well, now with Rondo being an All-World point guard instead of a stubborn second year protégé that everyone doubted he will have plenty of room to maneuver and plenty of wide-open teammates to get the ball to when the help defense arrives. Of course a return from Shaq would help as well as the addition of soon to be available Troy Murphy, but this move was about sacrificing one thing for another. I can applaud Danny for taking a risk, and in this case being the Dark Knight, as Celtics fans are portraying him as the villain.  In order to get to Banner 18 Danny realizes he will have to be whatever Beantown and Celtics fans need him to be. Welcome to the Celtics Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Thank you Kendrick Perkins for the blood, sweat and tears as like Danny Ainge, you will always be a Celtic.

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