DENVER – The Boston Celtics unloaded lots of big men at the NBA trading deadline and the key to making sure the moves pay off rests with the biggest guy who's still left — Shaquille O'Neal.
"If Shaq plays great, then this deal was obviously really, really good for us," coach Doc Rivers said of O'Neal, who's dealing with a sore Achilles' tendon. "That's on Shaq. Getting Shaq in great shape, getting him ready, getting him healthy is really going to be important for us."
Already atop the Eastern Conference, the Celtics made three deals Thursday.
In addition to sending Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a future first-round pick, Boston also traded Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to Cleveland, and dealt Marquis Daniels to Sacramento, for draft picks.
"The bottom line is we'll see," Rivers said before a game Thursday night with Denver, another team that reshuffled its roster by sending Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the New York Knicks earlier in the week.
"We think we did pretty well," Rivers said. "Red (Auerbach) would always say, 'Whatever the single best player is in the trade, try to get it.'"
There were a lot of teams trying to do that before Thursday's deadline.
Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round draft pick went from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mo Williams and forward Jamario Moon, and Aaron Brooks' tumultuous season in Houston ended when the guard was dealt to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.
The Rockets also traded Shane Battier and Ish Smith to Memphis for Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Caroll and a future first-round pick, and the Charlotte Bobcats sent Gerald Wallace to Portland for Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham, Sean Marks and conditional 2011 and 2013 draft picks.
"Our goal is to win a championship," Houston general manager Daryl Morey said. "These moves position us better in the future. The big move that helps us now and in the future did not materialize, but we feel like this positions us better to make that move down the road."
The Celtics believe they'll be better, too, if they can get O'Neal back on the court.
Perkins recently returned from a knee injury he sustained in Game 6 of the NBA finals and had been playing well inside. He was close to his teammates, who took the news of the trade hard.
"Tough day to play basketball. Very tough day to play basketball, to even concentrate," Kevin Garnett said after an 89-75 loss to the Nuggets. "Just being bluntly honest.
"We were taught that from the minute we got here — that (chemistry) was the formula that works. We've been able to be successful with that formula. The chemistry on the court is nothing like the chemistry off the court."
Paul Pierce said the team was "hurt" over the trade involving Perkins, but trusting that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Rivers "know what they're doing."
"We can't use it as an excuse and cry over spilled milk, so hopefully the guys we have coming in understand what we're trying to do around here — still championship goals," Pierce said. "It's definitely a blow when you lose a guy like Perk, who's been in playoff battles, been tested, gives us size and defense, especially when you're going against guys like Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol if we make the finals and play the Lakers. Hopefully, we can make up for it in other ways."
The Celtics also could get Jermaine O'Neal (left knee) back healthy by the postseason and they still have bulky Big Baby Glen Davis. The versatile 6-foot-9 Green can play multiple positions and will be counted on to guard the likes of Anthony and LeBron James.
"Do you feel comfortable with anybody guarding LeBron or Carmelo?" Rivers said with a grin. "I think everyone has to help people guard LeBron and all those guys, so it doesn't matter."
Krstic will provide some height, though he's not physical big man like Perkins. The 7-foot Krstic averaged 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds.
"Good piece for us as well," Rivers said. "He spreads the floor."
The same can be said of Green, giving Rivers the flexibility he's been searching for in his lineup since losing James Posey, who helped the Celtics to a championship in 2008.
Rivers now has the luxury to go to a smaller lineup by using Garnett at center and Green at power forward, with Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen also on the floor.
"We've been trying to get that lineup since Posey left," Rivers said. "And 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's hurt Rondo and in this way it should help."
So should the return of Shaq.
"Our record is (great) with him in it," Rivers said. "I see a lot of lineups, but you always see the lineups and then when you coach them, 'Eh, I don't like that lineup as much.' But you see a huge lineup: Shaq, Kevin, Paul, Jeff Green, Rondo. I mean, that's a big lineup.
"You just don't know how any of them work until you get them on the floor."
Rivers has often said things might have turned out differently against the Lakers in the NBA finals last season if he had his starting five, and Perkins wouldn't have been hurt.
"We won't" ever know, Rivers said. "That team never lost. So we can just end that. But we have to win with the group we have. And I think we will."
AP Sports Writers Chris Duncan in Houston and Dave Skretta in New York contributed to this report.