That title is controversial. Yesterday, immediately after the trade, I was very confident that it was also true. Today my feelings are more nuanced, and being long-winded I'm going to explore them here, but in the end I still think the trades put the Celtics in a better place...with caveats. But enough hemming and hawing, lets get into this.
Every analyst that I've seen review this trade almost universally says that the Celtics lost their edge with Perk. Last night Kenny Smith said that the Celtics were built on defense and intimidation, but that without Perkins they no longer have that. Danny Ainge has been publicly spinning this deal as a move made for the future since the team wasn't sure they could keep Perk. Roy Hobbs has a well-written article on the main page comparing this trade to trading an older Larry Bird or Kevin Mchale, thus completely changing the face of the franchise by trading fading icons. I only have one problem with this narrative...
I think it's wrong.
And I say that with utmost respect and care, because there is some kernel of truth there (and obviously Danny is the one that made the trade, so presumbably he knows his real motives better than me). Yes, Perkins contributed to the edge the Cs play with. More importantly, he is part of the FAMILY. He's been there through this whole ride, even before 2007. This was his home, and his teammates loved him like a brother. Losing that HURTS, and I do worry about how the real-life players (not mindless basketball automotons) will deal with this. That, along with the very real question of the health of the O'Neals are the two biggest worries that I have about the deal.
But, all of that said, as far as actual on-court production...for want of a better way to say it, Perkins just isn't as crucial as he has been made out to be. I do believe that if Perk were healthy we'd have won #18 last year, but I believe that if ANY replacement-caliber NBA 7-footer were there in his place the team would have won it as well. Perkins is not, was not, and never was going to be the key to the defense. Or even A key to the defense. He was a solid role player, but ultimately that's what he was...a role player. He was tall and big, and despite his other intangibles this was the biggest contribution from him. We now have reams and reams of evidence over the past 4 years...if you put Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo on the court, if you put ANY big with them they were going to have an elite defense. Whether that fifth player was Kendrick Perkins or some combo of Glen Davis, Shaquille O'Neal, Semih Erden, Leon Powe and/or Jermaine O'Neal...hasn't mattered in the slightest. Over sample sizes of thousands of minutes...Perkins just doesn't make a big difference in the level of defense that the Celtics put on the floor.
Now, this is a powerful result. It can't really be overstated. Because on the court, the one thing that Perkins could hang his hat on was his defensive impact. But if the team is just as strong defensively without him...and every reasonable shred of evidence says that they are...then suddenly his presence isn't necessary. Again, this is purely "Perkins the basketball player, on the court" that I'm judging here. Perkins the man was a key part of the team, and will be missed. But Perkins the basketball player...frankly, he was replaceable. And thus, expendable.
Entering yesterday, the Celtics had some clear weaknesses for this season. The biggest in my mind was the lack of a backup small forward. It wasn't a prohibitive worry, but it was a clear team need and put an undue stress on Pierce staying healthy and playing big minutes. The team also had a short-term shortage of bigs, with both O'Neals and Perk out for the interim with Semih hobbling as well. Presumably the bigs would eventually get healthy and become a strength again, but in the short term it was another weakness.
Now, fast-forward to after the moves. Our forward position is solidified now in a way that it hasn't been since Posey, and may be even stronger yet. In my opinion Jeff Green is a starting caliber small forward, one that can be an impact player as a 6th man that could make an even bigger impact in case of injury. He is the piece of the puzzle that, to me, has received shortest shrift around here. I know that Perk is a known quantity, but I think Green could make a bigger impact on this team for this year than Perk. He is a better basketball player, and also fits a team need.
I am not a huge fan of Nenad Krstic, but in the scheme of things I don't think he is replacing Perk. I think he is replacing Semih. Either way, though, Krstic is an NBA-tested center that is 7-feet tall and can move. Again, refer to what I mentioned above...our defense has been just as strong on the whole with players like Davis as it was with Perk (I didn't post the numbers, but I could if anyone is curious). Krstic is not a good defender, but he is as good as the Baby's and Powe's of the world with the additional benefit of actually being 7-foot.
Then, there is the Danny Ainge factor. I have to take it on faith that Ainge isn't a complete idiot, and that he has access to more information than I do. Because for him to trade both Perk AND Semih (and even Luke), that would make absolutely no sense if he weren't very confident that we would have sufficient big men moving forward. Right now our big men are Garnett, Baby, Krstic, Shaq, Jermaine and the 10-day guy. I am uncomfortable with Shaq and Jermaine because they are currently injured, and I can't know what to expect from them moving forward. But Danny has access to their whole stories, so he should have a better idea. Plus, the trades yesterday opened up 3 full roster spots for the Celtics. Like everyone I hear the Troy Murphy and Rasheed Wallace rumors, but I frankly have no clue as to their validity...but again, Danny does. Maybe I'm giving Danny too much credit, but I simply can't believe that he would plan to go through the rest of this season with only Krstic, Baby, Garnett and 10-day contract guys as bigs. To me, that would be asinine on a level that I'm going to credit that Danny isn't.
So ultimately, that's where I am. I ache for Perk the person, I worry about how the trade of their brother might affect the rest of the Celtics' mindsets, and I recognize that at my level of knowledge the remaining bigs look thin. But I also recognize that Perkins' actual on-court contributions are not as impactful as the narrative would suggest, that in-fact his contributions were very replaceable. I recognize that the 2 players that the Cs got back, purely on the basketball court, should make the team better this year than they would have been with just Perk. And I'm making the perhaps dangerous assumption that Danny Ainge isn't Lenny from Of Mice and Men (i.e. that he's not open-mouthed stupid), so to his level of knowledge we must have enough big bodies either getting healthy or on the way that size isn't an issue. With Shaquille O'Neal and Troy Murphy, for example, my headline is true. With some semblance of Jermaine O'Neal and Rasheed Wallace, my story is still true.
In other words, if there are 2 more NBA-caliber big men available to the Celtics moving forward in addition to KG/Baby/Krstic then we are a better basketball team moving forward than we would have been keeping Perk. And that's better this year, not just in the future. There are no guarantees, but from the things that I do know I'm pretty comfortable that this trade wasn't just folly or a misguided attempt at building for the future. And that #18 is very much still squarely in our sites.