On basketball

Contract issue at the center of the deal

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 25, 2011

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DENVER — For a few final moments, he was one of the guys. Kendrick Perkins walked through the tunnel at Pepsi Center yesterday morning to participate in his final function as a Celtic.

It appeared to be a normal shootaround as Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen walked onto the court having a passionate conversation that induced a couple of four-letter words from Garnett. It was time for business.

But Perkins, as it turns out, is no longer a part of the Celtics’ business.

Team president Danny Ainge executed a stunning deal yesterday that sent Perkins — one of the team’s most popular players and hardest workers — along with Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for former Celtics draft pick Jeff Green, center Nenad Krstic, and the Clippers’ 2012 first-round pick (a selection owned by the Thunder).

The initial reaction is shock and disappointment, but Ainge has shown throughout the years that he’s unafraid of a bold move. Perkins is an impending free agent, so his expiring contract was an attractive trade piece.

Perkins appeared destined for long-term security in Boston until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Game 6 of the NBA Finals last year. Since then, Ainge has had to ask himself whether it would be economically sound to invest about $10 million per season in a center coming off major knee surgery.

But that’s the market, and that’s what Perkins was going to ask for. He watched Brendan Haywood sign a six-year, $52 million contract with the Mavericks and wondered, why not me? The Lakers’ Andrew Bynum signed a four-year, $57 million extension. Joa kim Noah re-signed in Chicago for five years and $60 million. And Chris Kaman signed a five-year, $52 million contract with the Clippers in 2006.

The Celtics offered Perkins four years and $22 million, but he was looking for about double that. So there was going to be an impasse in the summer, and it’s apparent that Ainge chose to focus on impending free agent Glen Davis and perhaps using the team’s mid-level exception — if it still exists under the new collective bargaining agreement — to attract a new big man.

But he will be hard-pressed to replace the toughness and defensive prowess of Perkins, whose exit brought exhalations of relief in Miami, Orlando, and Chicago.

Krstic can’t be viewed as a replacement for Perkins. He is effective off the pick and roll because he is a better-than-average jump shooter. Whereas Perkins lacked a jumper and fluid post game, Krstic will open the floor because of his outside shooting.

But that doesn’t make the Celtics any tougher in the paint. Krstic is a finesse center who hasn’t been the same rebounder since tearing his left ACL in December 2006. In Oklahoma City, he was often replaced by Serge Ibaka in critical junctures and averaged just 21.7 minutes per contest.

The Celtics players were shocked by the deal. No one on the roster expected Perkins to be uprooted so suddenly, and even some team officials and coaches were perplexed by the trade.

Meanwhile, giving Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to the Cavaliers for a second-round pick and sending Marquis Daniels to Sacramento for a second-rounder cleared roster space for three more players.

Ainge undoubtedly has his eye on a couple of additions, notably power forward Troy Murphy, who is expected to be bought out by the Warriors. But Murphy will likely get the LeBron treatment for the next couple of days because he will be the best of the lot expected to hit the market.

Ainge is banking on the lure of winning a championship to attract a proven player to join the Celtics on a minimum contract. But he also is gambling on Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal returning and forming an effective tandem in the middle, where Glen Davis can also play.

Perhaps an indication of the Celtics’ willingness to move on with Perkins came last week against the Nets, when Brook Lopez was eating Perkins alive in the second and third quarters. Doc Rivers inserted Davis, who used his big body and shifty feet to contain Lopez as the Celtics pulled away late for a victory.

What Ainge did also will smooth the transition from “the Big Three’’ to “Rondo and the Boys.’’ Green averaged more than 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds as the third option in Oklahoma City, and his hulking size enables him to play two positions. He doesn’t turn 25 until August, meaning he is the second-youngest Celtic, behind Avery Bradley.

Critics have lambasted the Celtics about their advanced age and ability to remain healthy during a long playoff run. Ainge has done something about that and is banking that the Celtics can compensate for the absence of their toughest guy with a committee of bigs and an improved bench.

All we can do now is see how this plays out. The Celtics have 26 games to establish the chemistry and execution they maintained with Perkins. The veterans will have to deal with the loss of their security blanket and move forward.

Gary Washburn can be reached at

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