DENVER - The Celtics overhauled their bench yesterday with a flurry of unexpected trades, the most prominent being a deal that sent popular workhorse center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City along with guard Nate Robinson for small forward Jeff Green, center Nenad Krstic, and the Clippers’ first-round pick in 2012, which the Thunder owned.
The Celtics then shipped rookies Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to Cleveland for a second-round pick in 2013 (Minnesota’s). Finally, they sent Marquis Daniels, who bruised his spinal cord Feb. 6 against Orlando, to Sacramento for cash considerations and a second-round pick in 2017.
“It’s a part of the game,” said Delonte West, who was traded by the Celtics in 2007 and brought back last summer. “I’m eight years in. So I’m not really shocked by anything. Of course, we’re sad to see one of our brothers go, a couple of our brothers go, but they’ll be all right. You’ve just got to see them around.”
Perkins, a Celtic since entering the NBA out of high school in 2003, was a fan favorite in Boston because of his tough-minded style and exponential improvement over the years. But he is due to be a free agent this summer, and the Celtics sensed issues with re-signing him. Perkins is from Texas and will get a chance to play closer to his home.
The trade was a necessity and a gamble. Because of Daniels’s injury, the team needed to find a backup for Paul Pierce, who was averaging close to 40 minutes per game after Daniels was injured. But by giving up Perkins, their enforcer who could guard Orlando’s Dwight Howard by himself, and Erden, they were banking that Shaquille O’Neal, who’s missed the past seven games with an inflamed right Achilles’ tendon and has struggled all season with leg issues, will be healthy by the playoffs.
“It’s a key proponent of this,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We need to get Shaq healthy. Shaq will be healthy, but if Shaq plays great, then this deal was obviously really, really good for us. That’s on Shaq, getting Shaq in great shape, getting him ready, getting him healthy. It’s really going to be important for us in the playoffs.”
Celtics president Danny Ainge said, “It’s tough to play the O’Neals and Perk at the same time. Shaquille O’Neal has proven to be better with our starters. We beat all of the top teams without Kendrick.”
Ainge also believed Perkins was expendable because of his impending free agency and the expected return of Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal.
“He wasn’t interested in doing a contract extension,” Ainge said. “He wanted to test the market.”
At the hotel in Denver, Robinson said he spoke with Perkins after finding out they had been dealt.
“He’s taking it pretty hard because he’s been here eight years,” Robinson said. “He was real emotional, crying. I feel bad for him.
“I told him he’s not alone. `We’re going together. It’s not like you’ll be by yourself.”’
Green was the fifth pick in the 2007 draft by the Celtics, who traded him to Seattle in the Ray Allen deal on draft night. He was one of the young pieces for the Thunder, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are emerging, and he will be a restricted free agent when the season ends.
Green is the small forward the Celtics had been seeking and will give Rivers lineup options because he can also play power forward. He averaged 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds for Oklahoma City.
Krstic is a perimeter center and struggled with the Thunder this season. He averaged 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in 21 minutes.
“The bottom line is, we’ll see,” said Rivers. “We think we did pretty well today. Red [Auerbach] would always say, whatever the single-best player in the trade is, try to get it. But whether that’s Jeff Green or Perk, we don’t know that. Krstic is a good piece for us, as well. He spreads the floor, which I think is great for [Rajon] Rondo. Jeff Green does as well, which I think is great for Rondo.
“We needed to get a 3 and a 4 as far as a swing guy. This gives us the ability to do what I did the year we won it, which is at times we can go small with Green at 4 and Kevin [Garnett] at the 5, and Paul and Ray, and it spread the floor. We’ve been trying to get that lineup since [James] Posey left. I think people forget how many times we did that in the playoffs, which was every fourth quarter, for the most part. We haven’t been able to duplicate that. In some ways, that hurt Rondo. In this way, that should help.”
Robinson came to the Celtics from the Knicks at last year’s trade deadline and was included in this deal because his salary matched and West has returned to take some of his minutes.
In the locker room before last night’s game, players were distant and silent.
“It’s a difficult time when you see one of your good friends and teammates go,” said Pierce. “That’s probably the most difficult thing about this business, seeing a friend and teammate go, but you have to understand it’s a business and things of that nature happen.”
“I’m surprised, but it is what it is,” said Erden. “I thank the Celtics fans. This is my first NBA trade, so I don’t know.”