As we flip our calendars to the month of March, the new-look Celtics were able to pull out a victory late Monday night to finish up their four-game, West coast road trip. The C’s will now return home to begin a critical stretch as they strive to maintain the top spot in the Eastern conference and prepare for another strong playoff push.
Still a rather depleted group, the Celtics were able to escape back to Boston, posting a 3-1 record in the four games following the All-Star break. Their record improved to 2-1 after the surprising trade that sent the beloved center, Kendric Perkins, and the high-energy, diminutive, back-up point-guard, Nate Robinson, to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green.
The emotional blow the team suffered upon hearing news of the transaction was very palpable in their first game without the two players against the Denver Nuggets. Both players were integral parts who had significant roles on a very close-knit team. The loss was almost predictable, not only from the sheer shock from the move, but also because the Celtics were left with only 8 players in uniform after Danny Ainge also traded reserve players Marquis Daniels, Semih Erden and Luke Harangody.
Aside from the obvious factors that arise from the departure of a player so engrained to his team and to a city, I think the devastation was compounded by the surprising nature of the deal. It seemingly came out of nowhere. It was almost like a sucker punch to the gut. It was completely unexpected, and it knocked the collective breath out of an entire fan base.
Now that the clamor from the initial reaction of the trade has somewhat subsided, it’s a little easier to determine the method behind the madness. With the Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal still sidelined with injuries, the Celtics were in desperate need of some healthy bodies. Kendric Perkins will not even play for his new team for another 2-3 weeks, as his knee issues continue with a newly strained MCL. So, he would not have even been available for the Celtics for a while. Although, Krstic might represent a fundamentally different player than Perkins, he does provide the C’s with another 7 foot option that can help stretch the floor offensively and provide productive minutes whenever Shaq needs a breather.
The recent return of Delonte West facilitated the transfer of Nate Robinson for Jeff Green. Green, only 24 years old, is a hybrid player who can fluctuate between the power forward and small forward position. He is viewed as a player whose game is similar to former Celtic, James Posey, who played a vital role on the 2008 championship team. He is long, athletic, can guard multiple positions defensively and can really be a solid option offensively as well. He is an upgrade to Marquis Daniels, and will allow Doc Rivers to rest Paul Pierce a lot more down the stretch to ensure he is fresh for the playoffs.
It’s still difficult to rate the bevy of moves by Boston management, as the Celtics are rumored to be involved in negotiations with a couple players whose contracts have recently been bought out by their former teams and will become unrestricted free agents. Troy Murphy, who was just bought out by the Golden State Warriors, is player who seems to be a rumor mill favorite in Boston. At 6’11”, he is a versatile forward/center who can rebound and score from anywhere on the court. As a starter last season for the Indiana Pacers, he averaged slightly less than 15 points per game and just over 10 rebounds a game.
As of right now, Shaq appears to be on pace to return Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns. With all the recent shuffling of players, his health moving forward will be of the utmost importance. This a legitimate concern for Boston fans, as he has struggled to maintain any sort of consistency throughout any stretch of the season thus far.
The Celtics are entering an important 9-game stretch where they will only face two opponents who currently have a winning record. This will be a great opportunity for the newest additions to establish their roles on the team and build a level of comfort and confidence as the level of competition will permit for a more lenient margin for error.
With the Miami Heat’s recent struggles, the Celtics now have a two-game advantage over them in the loss column. Miami also does not have the benefit of a fortunate schedule like the Celtics, as their next ten opponents all have winning records, including games against the Magic, the Spurs (2), the Lakers, the Thunder, and the Bulls, who have pulled within one game of the Heat for the second-best record in the East.
Therefore, with the larger picture in focus, patience is the name of the game for the Celtics over the remaining 24 regular season games. Let’s reserve judgment until after the roster is completely filled out, and those vacancies created by all the trades are finally claimed. Now, if recent D League call-up, Chris Johnson, is still wearing a Celtics jersey in a week or two, then we will certainly have some warranted gripes to hurl at Ainge and his staff. But, for now, let’s wait and grant him the benefit of the doubt.
There might be some things to question Danny Ainge about, but his desire to win is definitely not one of them. Let’s not forget that this is the same guy who tossed a white, Celtics towel in the air while sitting behind the hoop in an attempt to distract a J.J. Hickson free throw in last year’s playoff series against the Cavs. If he’s willing to go to such great lengths on the sideline to influence a single point, I can only believe his championship intentions are sincere and his desire to raise another banner is very real.
So, cheer up Celtic fans. There will be life after Kendric Perkins. If there’s anything we’ve learned from this Celtic group, it’s that there’s no individual larger than the team. With Ainge, we’re in good hands. They might be a little crazy at times as well, but good hands, nonetheless. Nothing is certain and no one knows how this will end. Let this script play out, and if the end result is another title, then this will be nothing more than a mid-season side note.
Who knows? Maybe our old buddy, Perk, will play a huge role in defeating the hated Lakers and we’ll see him down the road later this season. Crazier things have certainly happened!