Hindsight 2020: What if Celtics hadn't traded Kendrick Perkins in 2011?

Hindsight 2020: What if Celtics hadn't traded Kendrick Perkins in 2011?

The visitors’ locker room at the Pepsi Center was practically catatonic. 

Hours after the Boston Celtics dealt Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the 2011 trade deadline, players were still processing the jaw-dropping move. A dazed Celtics squad had just watched host Denver race away with an 89-75 victory and now players were being asked to react to Perkins’ departure.

"A very tough day to play basketball,” said a somber Kevin Garnett. "To even concentrate, to be bluntly honest. It's not even about a teammate, it feels like we lost a family member today.”

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On paper, the Perkins trade that delivered Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, and a future first-round pick to Boston made sense. Perkins was working his way back from the ACL tear suffered during Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals and the Celtics were hesitant to sign him to the big-money extension he’d eventually land with the Thunder.

But what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his braintrust might have undervalued was the emotional toll that Perkins’ departure would have on the team. Combine that with Shaquille O’Neal’s inability to get healthy and Boston's hopes of competing for a title fizzled that year as the Celtics were unceremoniously booted in the East semifinals by Miami in five games.

For the better part of the past decade, it’s hard to find a move that Ainge and Co. lost. You can quibble about situations like the 2018-19 season and whether Ainge should have made a deal to alleviate some of the talent glut on the team, but rarely has the team made a move that wasn’t a push at worst. More often, they won the deal in a landslide.

The Perkins trade, however, is one that will be forever scrutinized, even after Perkins himself came out and suggested Ainge made the right move.

Even after Boston’s playoff exit that year, Ainge remained staunch that Boston’s issues went beyond screen setting and interior defense. Still, it would be fascinating to know how things might have been different if the Celtics had seen things through with a core that Doc Rivers loved to note had never lost a playoff series when healthy.

Maybe Perkins would have never gotten healthy enough to actually help. Maybe the Celtics would have watched Perkins walk away in the offseason without recouping full value. It’s equally fair to ponder whether Krstic could have anchored the big man spot into the playoffs if he never suffered a knee bruise in San Antonio late in the year.

But it’s undeniable that — at least in the immediate aftermath of the Perkins trade — it ripped the Celtics’ heart out.

"To me, [chemistry is] everything,” Paul Pierce said in the aftermath of the trade. "It doesn't matter what type of talent you bring in or what type of talent you have on your ball club; people underrate what chemistry brings.

This is one of the tightest units, one of the most together teams that you could probably think of, especially because we've been together for so many years, it's just a number of things. How we roll on the plane, in the hotel, the camaraderie that we've been able to gather over the years. And, when you lose that, it's tough.

I’ll never forget that Denver locker room. It felt like a funeral. Just watch this video of Garnett’s postgame media session:

Now, to be fair, the Celtics ripped off a five-game winning streak right after that loss. They also had some really troubling home losses while going 13-10 over the final 23 games of the season. A first-round sweep of the Knicks showed potential but they had no answers for Miami. As Ainge fairly noted, the remaining core didn’t do enough in the postseason to carry the team.

It says a lot about Boston’s moves that it’s hard to pick a more obvious misfire. Even the Kyrie Irving deal made sense at the time, even if it delivered a similar stomach punch at the time and surely his tenure fell way short of expectations.

The Celtics still have one more asset to collect via the Perkins trade: The Memphis first-rounder they got after dealing Green away. Maybe that could help tip the balances of how this trade is viewed if Ainge digs out a gem.

Boston dusted itself off for the 2011-12 season and came one LeBron James supernova Game 6 away from a trip back to the NBA Finals.

Still, in the absence of a more glaring misstep, the Perkins trade could forever be Ainge’s biggest “what if?” 

Celtics' Semi Ojeleye gives positive reaction to reported NBA return proposal

Celtics' Semi Ojeleye gives positive reaction to reported NBA return proposal

The NBA's Board of Governors reportedly is expected to approve a 22-team return plan during Thursday's meeting, which would pave the way for the 2019-20 season to resume later in the summer.

Under the reported proposal, each of the remaining 22 teams would play eight more regular season games before a 16-team playoff commences. 

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The Boston Celtics currently are the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They also are one of three teams in the East that's already clinched a postseason berth. It's not a perfect plan, but it does allow players some regular season games to get ready for the grind of the playoffs. The proposal gives teams on the playoff bubble a chance to earn a postseason berth as well.

Boston Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye joined Wednesday night's "Arbella Early Edition" to discuss the proposed return plan and the challenge players will have in getting ready to restart the season.

"I think it's a good plan," Ojeleye said. "Obviously, the entire pandemic we've been focused on keeping people healthy, and keeping the players and the fans healthy, that's why we shut (the season) down. I think what we're doing now, easing back into workouts with a few people in the gym is a good plan. Hopefully, going forward we keep people healthy as well."

What has Ojeleye been doing to stay in shape?

"I've been blessed to have a little outdoor space," he said. "I got my hands on some indoor equipment -- some bikes and weights. From there, it's really just about not skipping days. There have been a lot of days where I'm like -- I can't hoop, but I knew I could try to get my cardio in and try get my lifts in. That's what I've been focused on, and hopefully it pays off."

There's been a lot of debate over how much time players need to get into game shape. Some people think a month or even a few weeks is too much, but the long layoff hasn't been like a normal offseason where players are able to play pickup games and train however they choose. Many players have had limited access to workout equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic as gyms and team facilities have been closed.

Ojeleye explained why players need plenty of time to prepare their body and mind for the remainder of the regular season and the ensuing playoffs.

'It's going to be tough. Different guys have different access to weights and facilities," Ojeleye said. "And guys are at different stages of their careers. Some guys are coming off injuries, some guys have had nagging injuries during the year and they've taken a break. Everyone is going to need a little bit more time. I'd say, at least a few weeks at minimum for everyone to get back in shape and to get that feel. As a team, we need our chemistry, and that's going to take time as well."

The Celtics, despite making several roster changes before the 2019-20 season, quickly developed a strong chemistry. While there are reasons to be optimistic the C's will find this chemistry again soon, the process doesn't happen overnight, especially when these players have been unable to play basketball with their teammates during this pandemic.

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

When the NBA season was put on pause in March, the timing could not have been much better for the Boston Celtics. 

Wins were getting harder to come by (they had lost three of their last five), the jacuzzi-hot play of Jayson Tatum was starting to cool off some and Kemba Walker was headed towards a stretch of “strategic rest” days off because of knee soreness. 

And just like the rest of the NBA is fired up about the potential return to play reportedly as early as the end of late July, the Celtics are an eager bunch to restart the season as well. 

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And they should be for a number of reasons. 

First and foremost, there’s a very real chance that they can move up in the standings if the league adopts the reported return-to-play model which includes eight regular season games before the playoffs. 

Currently third in the East, the Celtics would begin the postseason against Philadelphia if the league went straight into the playoffs — an idea that hasn’t garnered a ton of support from owners or players. 

An eight-game slate of games would provide Boston with enough opportunities to potentially move ahead of Toronto and secure the No. 2 seed in the East. 

The way the standings look now, the potential for movement is great for many teams. 

Boston (43-21) trails the Raptors (46-18) by three games in the standings. Behind the Celtics you find the Heat (41-24) who are 2.5 games back.

The next closest teams to Boston beyond those two are Indiana and Philadelphia (both 39-26) who each trail Boston by 4.5 games. 

For the Celtics’ sake, moving up from their current draft position and avoiding a first-round matchup with Philadelphia would be the preferred path to take this postseason. 

The Sixers, one of the bigger disappointments this season, will feature a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, making them a much tougher foe come playoff time. 

For the Celtics, the alternative if they move up would be a Brooklyn Nets team that’s expected to play this postseason without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant who have both been out recovering from injuries. 

There’s also a chance that Boston would face the Indiana Pacers in the first round if the C's remain as the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed which, similar to facing Philadelphia, would provide a tough first-round matchup. 

The reboot to the season also allows more time for the Celtics to adjust to what’s shaping up to be a new pecking order. 

While Walker is the team’s most proven, most decorated talent, there’s no escaping the inevitable rise of Tatum as the face of the franchise (if he’s not already there). 

As the season wore on, his ascension was undeniable. Tatum began the season as a player the Celtics were hoping to see blossom into a big-time talent with the departures of Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia).

Following his first All-Star appearance in February, Tatum averaged 29.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 46.8 percent on 3’s. His ability to pick up where he left off would go far in Boston’s quest to build off the successes they had this past season. 

As for Walker, he had missed some games and played limited minutes in others shortly before the season was paused thanks to knee soreness.

The extended downtime without games or practice should allow Walker to return to action revived and refreshed.

And him being healthy combined with Tatum’s improved play gives the Celtics a potent 1-2 punch as they inch closer to rebooting the system and in doing so, restarting their journey towards what they believe will be a deep postseason run.