Emotional Celts cope with losing Perk
After 'family member' traded, team falls in Denver on 'tough day to play basketball'
DENVER -- It was likely just a coincidence, but as members of the Boston Celtics made their way to the team bus after Thursday's loss to the Denver Nuggets, many of the players were clad in black, as if coming from a funeral.
Just hours after Boston completed three deals as part of a roster overhaul, the most noteworthy of which sent starting center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City in an NBA trade deadline shocker, the Celtics' locker room ran the gamut of grief. From denial to mild anger to depression to acceptance, Boston players struggled to grasp the loss of a core member of the Big Three era.
"A tough day to play basketball, you know?" Garnett said after the Celtics fell 89-75 at Pepsi Center. "A very tough day to play basketball. To even concentrate, to be bluntly honest. It's not even about a teammate, it feels like we lost a family member today."
The Celtics bid farewell to five players Thursday, a third of a roster that spent nearly the entire first four months of the season on top of the Eastern Conference. Perkins and Nate Robinson were shipped to the Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a future first-round draft pick; rookies Semih Erden and Luke Harangody were dealt to Cleveland for a future second-round draft pick; and Marquis Daniels was delivered to Sacramento for another future second-round draft pick.
Rivers, who's had Perkins by his side for his entire Boston tenure, tried to put on a brave face and throw his support around the trade. But even Rivers didn't shy away from admitting that the loss hit hard in Boston's locker room.
"Well, they love him," said Rivers. "I told them before the game, someone told me, 'Well, it's not personal.' I said, 'No, it's very personal.' Perk is a family member. He's more than just a player for us, and when you lose a family member like that, it hurts. It's emotional, and that's how the guys are. They understand the trade and all that stuff, but that still doesn't mean it's not emotional for you."
Someone told me, 'Well, it's not personal.' I said, 'No, it's very personal.' Perk is a family member ... and when you lose a family member like that, it hurts.” -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers, on trades
Whether intentional or not, Pierce dubbed the trade the "nature of the beast," using a nickname familiar to Perkins when describing the cold nature of professional sports. Like most of his teammates, Pierce didn't have an answer about whether the trade actually made Boston a better team. But he threw his support around management despite clearly being rattled by Perkins' departure.
"You just hope [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] and Doc know what they're doing," said Pierce. "We put our trust in them, so it is what it is. We can't use any excuses and cry over spilled milk. So, hopefully the guys we have coming in understand what we're trying to do around here. It's still a championship goal."
But the emotions remained raw.
"I mean, it's tough, man," said Pierce. "For some of the guys, being around Perk -- me, [Rajon] Rondo, KG and Ray [Allen], we've all got pretty good ties with Perk. A lot of guys are really emotional to see him go. It's a tough situation, it's a tough business, but you saw how the business works all in one week.
"Everybody complains and talks about how Carmelo [Anthony] dictated what was going on with his situation, where in another situation a guy can't control what goes on. So it's both sides to the business. You can't be mad at either one of them and just understand, hey, that's the nature of the beast."
The nature of the beast struck a year ago when the Celtics dealt Eddie House, a key reserve on the 2008 championship team, to New York for Robinson in a move aimed at shaking up a struggling squad.
Boston seemed resigned to a move back then, and the struggling House was a rather obvious choice to go. Even with the potential to lose Perkins this offseason, the Celtics seemed legitimately blindsided by Thursday's blockbuster deal.
The disappointment and disbelief was palpable. Many of the veterans elected not to talk before Thursday's game, as they were still processing the news. Rajon Rondo, Perkins' best friend on the team, declined to speak to reporters after the game, as well.
Boston's biggest concern is chemistry, a key ingredient in the team's overwhelming success since the Big Three were united in the summer of 2007. Newcomers Green and Krstic will be given a crash course in Ubuntu when they join the team in Los Angeles on Friday.
"To me, [chemistry is] everything," said Pierce. "It doesn't matter what type of talent you bring in or what type of talent you have on your ballclub; people underrate what chemistry brings.
"This is one of the tightest units, one of the most together teams that you could probably think of, especially because we've been together for so many years, it's just a number of things. How we roll on the plane, in the hotel, the camaraderie that we've been able to gather over the years. And, when you lose that, it's tough. So, hopefully we can integrate the guys that we've got coming in and they can pick up things pretty quickly and make the adjustment [in] lifestyle to just how we are off the court."
But the Celtics weren't quite ready for acceptance Thursday night. Heck, even the loss to the Nuggets, one in which a nine-man Boston roster ran out of gas over the final six minutes, barely registered.
The true loss happened hours before.
"We lost Semih, we lost Luke -- 'Quis, obviously," said Garnett before taking a long pause. "It's a tough day. A tough day.
"You made these connections with these guys; you get to know one another. We're not just one of these teams that just talk about hanging out. Man, our whole team hangs out. If you see one of us, it's like 11, if not 12, 13 or 14 around the corner. Hell, [Celtics media relations czar Jeff] Twiss might even be right there with us.
"That's how we are. We were taught that from the minute we got together. That's the formula that works. That's why we've been able to be successful with that formula. The chemistry on the court, it's something like the chemistry off the court. Today was a really difficult day."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.