Yesterday’s nationally televised trouncing of the Boston Celtics by the endlessly hyped and overrated Miami Heat — the Celts had won all three previous engagements against them this season — was the starkest evidence yet that Celtics GM Danny Ainge’s decision to blow up a dominant team mid-season has backfired. The Celtics have lost their mojo, at the worst possible time.
Ainge’s most controversial move — trading center Kendrick Perkins, one of the NBA’s best low-post defenders and much-loved teammate, along with guard Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for forward Jeff Green, big man Nenad Krstic, and a future draft pick — made sense on paper. After all, Perk had barely played this season, recovering from a knee blown out in last year’s finals against the Lakers, and was a free agent next year, while the Celts had played brilliantly through the first half of the season with ancient Shaquille O’Neal clogging the paint, shooting a spectacular 67 percent from the field, and integrating seamlessly with the team. Moreover, Green is only 24, extremely versatile, and unselfish in the classic Celtic mold, and Krstic is a better offensive player than Perk.
Basketball is the most team-oriented of sports, however, and the trade, breaking up the starting five that won the 2007–08 NBA championship and has never lost a playoff series, has clearly poisoned the Celtics’ chemistry, costing them big games and the top spot in the east. The problem hasn’t really been the new additions: Krstic has been better than advertised and Green has shown flashes of brilliance, though he has had difficulty adjusting to coming off the bench. No, moving Perk has seemingly had its most damaging effect on the play of his close friend, point guard Rajon Rondo, who actually has seemed depressed on the court since the deal. And as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics — as his play has deteriorated, for example, so have Ray Allen’s shooting opportunities.
With only two games left in the regular season, the Celtics now look to the return of 39-year-old Shaq from various leg ailments to provide the spark missing of late — a scenario no one would have anticipated before the season began.
— Brian C. Anderson is the editor of City Journal and a fan of the Boston Celtics.