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Sunday, January 15, 2012
Updated: January 16, 9:57 PM ET
Celtics haven't been same without Perk

By Peter May
ESPNBoston.com

This was going to be a column about Kendrick Perkins' return to Boston, his first game in TD Garden since Feb. 16, 2011, when he was wearing the home whites. It looked like the obvious story, the role-playing center on a championship-level team returning to the place where it all began.

But given the state of his former team, that would be what one calls burying the lead.

Kendrick Perkins
Kendrick Perkins' production with the Thunder is about what it was with the Celtics, but his fouls are at a career low.

Perkins is doing just fine, thank you, as is his team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who defeated the New York Knicks on Saturday night to improve to 11-2. Perk is putting up pretty much the same kind of numbers he did when he was starting for the Celtics. In 13 games, all starts, he's averaging 5.7 points and 6 rebounds. One change: He's averaging 2.6 fouls per game, the fewest since he became a de facto starter in 2005.

His former team? Not doing so well, so we'll cut to the chase. After getting rolled by the Pacers on Saturday night, the second loss to Indy in eight days, the Celtics are 4-7 and have matched the longest losing streak in the new Big Three era by dropping four in a row. (They also lost four straight in 2008-09.) And with the athletic, dynamic Thunder on tap for Monday night, no one will be shocked if the streak reaches five.

Pretty much nothing has gone right for the Celtics since Danny Ainge pulled the trigger and made the controversial Perkins trade last February. At the time, it didn't look to be nearly as bad as it has turned out to be. The Celtics got the best player in the deal in Jeff Green. The Celtics got a first-round draft pick that belonged to perennially underachieving Los Angeles Clippers. And they had played well over the first two months of the season without Perkins, who was recovering from knee surgery.

Since then, well, look at what has happened.

Shaquille O'Neal, aka The Big Tease, never returned to any kind of active or productive role for the Celtics. Ainge made the trade thinking (hoping?) that Shaq would be there, at least for the playoffs. Instead, O'Neal took a couple of months off, returned and hurt his Achilles and was never a factor.

The Celtics had four centers on their roster before the trade: Perkins, Shaq, Jermaine O'Neal and Semih Erden. They ended up with two available for the playoffs: Jermaine O'Neal, who had been hurt all year, and Nenad Krstic, who was part of the trade and was basically ignored by Doc Rivers. Only O'Neal remains.

Green was supposed to be the swingman the Celtics lacked -- and he was that on paper. He just wasn't nearly as good as the Celtics hoped he could be, as he struggled to find his role and comfort level while coming off the bench for the first time in his NBA (or college) career.

Then, of course, came the devastating news in training camp this season after Green had reported early, eager to begin what he and everyone else thought would be his first full season with the Celtics. But an aortic aneurism detected during his routine physical exam in December led to heart surgery earlier this month and a season of idleness. The Celtics don't even hold his rights any more.

Meanwhile, Krstic bolted for CSKA Moscow. Can you blame him? He was a serviceable NBA center for the Thunder, but disappeared in Boston. He totaled 51 minutes in the postseason and was a DNP in two of the conference semifinals against the Miami Heat. (Then again, Kevin Garnett was MIA in four of the Miami games.)

The Celtics got bounced in five games by the Heat -- their quickest exit in the new Big Three era -- while Oklahoma City advanced to the Western Conference finals and is one of the favorites to make it to the NBA Finals this season. The Celtics? Right now, they're not even in the playoff picture.

Even the draft pick from the Perkins trade has lost value. While protected over the next few years, the pick promises to be not as worthwhile if the Lob City Clippers continue to improve.

So, yes, the deal has not turned out the way the Celtics envisioned. OK, that's a classic understatement. In retrospect, it's been a disaster. (Full disclosure: I supported the deal when it was made, thinking that Shaq was coming back and that Green would be better than he was.)

The Celtics' short window to compete for a title is closing as we speak and there is no guarantee that Green, seen as a key piece going forward, will even be on the roster next season.

So, welcome back, Perk. It'll be fun seeing the guys again, but things just haven't been the same since that day in Denver when you got the news. You left a team seriously contending for an NBA title. You return to play a team on the brink of its longest losing streak in five years and one that, right now anyway, cannot seem to find its way.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.