Danny Ainge faces a double whammy of a challenge as he begins to prepare his Celtics for the 2010-11 NBA season — he has to keep his team armed and dangerous for the present, and he has to keep young talent stockpiled for the long run.
Kendrick Perkins, with nearly five full years of experience as the Celtics' starting center under his belt by the age of 25, would appear to be a means to both ends. He's been an integral part of three straight playoff runs, and he can help this team for years to come. And yet once again, Perk begins the summer as the subject of trade rumors.
Sam Amick of NBA FanHouse reported last week that Ainge, in the days leading up to Thursday's NBA draft, dangled Perkins and the team's No. 19 overall draft pick as a trade package aimed at bringing a lottery pick to Boston.
Ainge has been a loyal Perkins supporter throughout the young center's career. He drafted Perk at age 18 right out of Clifton J. Ozen High School in Texas, with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2003 draft — Ainge's first as GM of the Celtics. He's watched him grow ever since, from a bench scrub, to a regular contributor and ultimately to a starting center on a championship team.
Why would he bail out now?
Perkins suffered a catastrophic injury in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles, falling hard on his right leg and spraining his knee. His initial self-diagnosis the following morning was a torn MCL and torn PCL; Ainge came out a week later and said his center may have a torn ACL, as well.
Perkins isn't likely to be on the floor when the Celtics tip off their season this fall. He may miss a significant chunk of time, and the C's will be worse off for it. But one knee injury is not the end of the world, and it's not a good reason to give up on a young center who's already helped bring one championship to Boston.
So what if Perkins misses October, November or even December of next season? Does that mean he still can't help the C's be a contender down the road?
The Celtics have learned this lesson better than anyone: It doesn't matter how many injuries you fight through in the regular season, as long as you make it through alive and can fight into the playoffs.
Last season, the C's battled through the broken thumb of Glen Davis, the hyperextended knee of Kevin Garnett, and various ailments of the knee, foot and thumb of Paul Pierce. They still ended up in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. If that journey taught us anything, it's that the C's can overcome one measly little knee injury.
Ainge's Celtics are running out of time to be a true title contender with their current nucleus. Garnett, Pierce and free-agent-to-be Ray Allen all have Father Time looking over their shoulders.
But they're not dead yet, and Perkins' presence is a big reason they're alive and kicking.
No plan that involves trading Perkins is for the best. Swapping him for Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins was a ridiculous pipe dream. Replacing him with Brad Miller is fine as a quick fix, but it's not a long-term solution.
Perkins needs to remain in Boston for the long haul. Come next spring, he'll be a healthy cog in the Celtics' machine as they try for another deep playoff run. And beyond that, he remains the team's center of the future.
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