Sizing up what Celtics-Thunder trade means for the Lakers
Even through all the injury uncertainty, the Lakers have maintained a long and steadfast view that they shouldn't trade center Andrew Bynum for one reason.
Size. It's an advantage few teams have in the NBA and it's a huge reason why the Lakers have been through three consecutive Finals appearances. Heck, even when Bynum played a limited role during the Finals against Boston last season because of torn cartilage in his right knee, he altered and blocked shots, intimidated players from driving into the lane, provided close shots and rebounds, and gave an occasional breather to Pau Gasol.
It's debatable in these parts whether that perspective is correct. Size has played an instrumental part of the Lakers' consecutive championships. But there's the continuing uncertainty whether they'll truly get the investment in return. The latter mind-set is something the Celtics showed when they traded center Kendrick Perkins and backup guard Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for forward Jeff Green and center Nenad Krstic. The reasons for the Celtics' breaking up their 2008 championship roster mostly points to the fact that Perkins recently turned down a long-term contract and would become a free agent after this season. Still the Celtics are barely a season removed from Coach Doc Rivers' downplaying the Lakers' 2010 title because Perkins tore the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee, causing him to miss the final three quarters of Game 6 and all of Game 7. "They still have not beaten our starting five," Rivers said of Boston, which in ironic fashion secured the 2008 NBA Finals while the Lakers featured an absent Andrew Bynum and a limited Trevor Ariza.
So how does this change Boston moving forward?
"I can't speculate about that," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "They know what they want." But he did throw in a tongue-in-cheek dig: "They go down as never having lost a playoff series."
This at least becomes clear: Rivers can't lament Perkins' absence should the Lakers beat the Celtics in the Finals. The Lakers have their own issues, though they've softened since putting together a two-game winning streak. But this remains clear: The Lakers would match up much better against the Celtics in the NBA Finals without Perkins in the lineup. He may have been limited in the Lakers' 109-96 loss Jan. 31 to the Celtics, posting two points, six rebounds, four fouls and three turnovers in 27 minutes. Perkins also couldn't match Bynum in the Lakers' 92-86 victory Feb. 10 in points, scoring 12 to Bynum's 16. And Boston still stayed the top team in the Eastern Conference despite his absence until the first Lakers-Celtics matchup.
But as the Lakers and Celtics very well know, the playoffs area different story. Perkins provided a valuable presence for Boston because he is a capable defender. Of course, the Celtics still have size with Krstic, Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal, while Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis will continue their usual role at power forward. Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson tweeted, "Look out for Shaq-he'll be big in the play-offs for the C's." And The Sporting News and Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin explain in detail the big-picture implications the Celtics considered when making this move.
But Boston is surely taking a huge risk. Shaq has been frequently limited with an inflamed Achilles' tendon that the Boston Globe's Julian Benbow reports is "showing no signs of improving." Jermaine O'Neal remains sidelined from right knee surgery. And who knows how well Krstic will fit in? With the 2010 NBA Finals presenting a competitive series that hinged on two evenly matched teams looking for any edge possible, the Lakers just gained an advantage without Perkins there should they meet again. This time, however, Rivers can't lament his absence.
"That's right," Jackson said, smiling.
But the Lakers shouldn't be smiling too much because Oklahoma City instantly becomes a tougher opponent for them should they meet in the playoffs. Kobe Bryant expressed uncertainty on what Perkins' role will entail with the Thunder. But should Perkinsprovide the same role with the Thunder as he did with the Celtics, the Lakers are in for one tough series. They already had their hands full dealing with the youth and athleticism that the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibakabring in the open court. If the Thunder are able to strike a balance between using that athleticism and finding production from Perkins when other teams slow down the pace, the Lakers should be in for one tough test.
It's good the Lakers stood pat and made no moves before the trading deadline. They already have the distinguishable skills they need in Bryant's scoring and the size Gasol and Bynum bring. But as the Lakers learned today, one playoff opponent just became stronger at the expense of another.
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Photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum and Boston center Kendrick Perkins battle for possession during the first quarter Thursday night. Credit: Charles Krupa / Associated Press