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Perkins trade weakens Celtics


I hate the Kendrick Perkins trade.

And make no mistake; in Boston, this deal will always be the Kendrick Perkins trade. Jeff Green might be a young Antonio McDyess. He might someday replace Celtics captain Paul Pierce. But Celtics fans will always think of this as the Kendrick Perkins trade. I don't expect Green or 7-foot center Nenad Krstic to have their numbers retired, but even if they play well in Boston, this is going to be remembered as the Kendrick Perkins trade.

It's a shocker and a high-stakes gamble by ever-bold team president Danny Ainge. The Celtics were a conference-best 40-14 at the All-Star break. They were front-runners to make it to the Finals for the third time in four seasons. And then Ainge (one of the great talent evaluators of his generation) up and traded his starting center less than two months before the start of the playoffs.

This is a head-scratcher of the highest order. OK, Perkins is never going to be mistaken for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He's limited offensively, gets too many technical fouls, is often on the bench at the end of games, is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery and likely would have left as an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Celtics went 33-10 before he came back from his knee injury this season. All true.

But he was an integral piece of what made the Celtics better than Miami, Orlando, Chicago and maybe also the Lakers. He was a perfect complement to a starting lineup that includes three future Hall of Famers (Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Pierce) and All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. To go along with these four guys, the Celtics need a sturdy, unselfish defender/rebounder with experience and attitude. That was Perkins.

Coach Doc Rivers liked to brag that the starting five of Garnett, Allen, Pierce, Rondo and Perkins never lost a playoff series. He's right. They won a championship in 2008, got eliminated by Orlando when Garnett was out in '09 and had a 3-2 series lead in the Finals last year when Perkins' knee dissolved on the Staples Center floor in Game 6. When he came back this season, it looked like the Fab Five would win again.

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Now, who knows? The subtraction of Perkins certainly brings hope to the Heat, Magic, Bulls, Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks and Thunder. Before this trade, the Celtics were beasts of the East, a team with a 3-0 record against the Heat, a road win against the Lakers and a victory over the league-leading Spurs. The Celtics were feared. Now they are just another really good team with obvious flaws.

What kills me most about this deal is the idea that the Celtics are thinking about the future. Who cares about the future when you have a roster of NBA AARPs? Since acquiring Allen and Garnett in the summer of '07, the Celtics have been all about now -- never more than this year when they went out and got fossils Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal for one last roundup. Green should help for the future, and if he doesn't work out this season, he, too, can walk as a free agent and Boston will have even more financial flexibility for 2012. But you don't sacrifice this season when you have a chance to win a championship.

I've never been one to cater to the whims of star players, but this deal could be demoralizing to the Celtics' core four. Garnett and Pierce looked like they'd had their hearts cut out when they spoke in Denver the night the deal was announced. And Rondo has kept quiet since his best friend left.

Ainge is gambling that Shaq will be healthy enough to help in the playoffs. This is not likely. Shaq is almost 39 years old and missed 21 of the Celtics' first 57 games, including the last nine with a sore Achilles. The Celtics might be OK if he's able to come back and give them 20 minutes a game in the playoffs, but we've seen nothing to indicate that will happen.

Green is a legitimate talent. He'll be able to give Pierce and Garnett more rest down the stretch and he can help Pierce guard LeBron and Kobe in the playoffs. But Ainge just drove a big hole into the middle of his rotation and it's not going to be pretty if Shaq can't play and Glen Davis has to guard Dwight Howard for long stretches of playoff games.

Boston fans are split over the deal. There's been a campaign to sell the trade by diminishing Perkins' abilities. I don't buy it. We all know what Perkins was and what he wasn't. He was important. And if the Celtics fail to win the championship this season, Ainge gets the goat horns.

The 2010-11 Celtics were not broken. They didn't need fixing. And they're weaker now than they were before this deal was made last week. It makes no sense for a team that's all about the present.

Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Read more of his columns here.