February 26, 2011
Everyone who hears that the Celtics traded Kendick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City in exchange for Jeff Green, Nenad Kristic, and a 2011 first round draft pick reacts in the same way – “What?”
The Boston Celtics have lost in the playoffs the last two years primarily because they ran out of big men. The last two years crucial injuries to the Celtics two best rebounders and post defenders, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, cost the Celtics dearly and essentially knocked them out of the playoffs. It therefor makes very little sense to me that Celtics GM Danny Ainge, after making a concerted effort in the offseason to acquire more depth up front, would trade one of the leagues very best centers – Kendrick Perkins. There a multiple ways to look at this deal and I will try to cover them all, but in my mind I just don’t see how this makes the Celtics a better team this year. And if the goal is championship in 2011, that should be Ainge’s only objective.
First off one should examine the trade just on how it changes each team on the basketball court. Boston can easily do without Nate Robinson. As fun as he was to watch, and as valuable as he was last year in the playoffs, the return of Delonte West and the strong play of Von Wafer had essentially rendered Nate irrelevant. It was nice for Doc Rivers to know that he had an explosive scorer on his bench. But West and Wafer are both more consistent and overall probably better players. It was likely best for both sides to ship Nate out. He will get more minutes in with the Thunder and he is easily replaceable. That is not the case with Kendrick Perkins.
Centers as good as Kendrick Perkins are hard to find. Perk was the perfect center for the Boston Celtics. A team with such an arsenal of offensive weapons has no need for an offensive minded center. They needed exactly what Perk gave them for eight years. They needed good defense; Perk is unquestionably one of the very best defensive centers in the league. They needed strong rebounding; Perk routinely pulled down eight to ten boards a game. They needed intimidation; Kenny Smith likened Perk’s presence in the paint to a “beware of the dog” sign outside a house. Perk gave the Celtics exactly what they needed from the center position and, despite the fact that the were 33-10 without him this season, it’s hard to believe that the subtraction of Perk can possibly make them better. Regardless of how well the O’Neals play when healthy, or how well Kristic adapts to Boston, or who Celtics sign off the free agent pile, whoever starts in the middle for Boston will not be as good as Perk. End of story.
The Celtics did get back significant assets in this trade. Jeff Green is an excellent player who should give the Celtics back the player they lost when James Posey signed with New Orleans. Nenad Kristic is a talented 7 footer in the prime of his career. And the Clipper’s first round pick will likely be a good one. They got back some pretty good players but they also just gave away the man who is likely their best rebounder and one of their best post defenders. I guarantee the Lakers love this trade, provided they don’t meet OKC in the playoffs.
Without Perkins the Celtics are going to have to rely on the Shaq, Jermaine O’Nealand Kristic to replace what he brought. If the O’Neals are healthy come playoff time it could work out fine. However if they are not the Celtics will be relying on Kristic to be a player that he frankly isn’t. The simply truth of the matter is while Kristic is 7 feet tall he is not a good defender or rebounder. And he is replacing one of the best in the league in those two categories. If the O’neals are healthy, and if Green can give them James Posey type impact off the bench, the Celtics may have actually improved and should be a championship favorite. But if they aren’t healthy the Celtics are in big trouble. Ainge just took a gigantic gamble.
From a pure basketball perspective this trade, while a gamble, looks alright. If things go according to plan the Celtics should actually improve. However basketball is not just about basketball just as all other sports are not just about sports. The importance of team chemistry cannot be emphasized enough in the NBA. So this begs the question why Ainge would want to break up a starting five that, when intact, had never lost a playoff series. In my mind this is the kind of gamble you take when you are desperate which the Celtics are not. Didn’t Doc Rivers say that he put off retirement because he wanted another shot with this group of players? Word from Celtics insiders is that the team veterans are all furious at Ainge and, in a locker room as tight as Boston’s, who knows what kind of effect that may have. Rocking the boat on team that is underachieving is one thing. Ainge did that last year when he shipped out Eddie House. But rocking the boat on a team that has been sitting atop the Eastern Conference all season long frankly makes no sense. Ainge is attempting to fix something that isn’t broken which brings me to my next point; Ainge.
Everyone gives Danny Ainge a lot of credit for acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007 and with good reason. However in doing so people forget that almost no one can remember a deal Danny Ainge made at the trading deadline that actually improved the Celtics. He has a history of making moves at almost every trading deadline and practically none of them have worked out. For example:
-In 2003 he packaged team leader Eric Williams to Cleveland in exchange for Ricky Davis and Chris Mihm. The team, that had been contending for a playoff spot at the time, immediately nose dived.
-In 2006 he sent Davis, who had turned into a decent player in Boston, to Minnesota in exchange for Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowakandi. The deal completely backfired and eventually propelled Boston to a franchise record 24 game losing streak and the leagues second worst record.
-In 2009 he brought in Stephon Marbury and Mikey Moore both of whom did absolutely nothing as the the team was knocked out by Orlando in the second round of the playoffs.
Sure in 2008 he picked up Sam Cassell and PJ Brown both of whom were valuable. However that is honestly the only deadline deal I can remember Ainge making that actually improved the Celtics that season. Ainge is trigger happy and feels like he has to do something at every trade deadline. People say they trust Ainge because he brought in KG and Ray. But his activity at the trading deadline has been historically bad, so I don’t see why people are so confident that Danny knows what he’s doing.
On a personal level I, as an unabashed Celtics fan, will miss Perk. Not just because he was good but because of his style. Perk was old school. Perk was a throwback. Perk was mean. Perk was nasty. Perk did all the little things that help teams win basketball games. He was the kind of player you hated on any other team. But if he was your guy you loved him. He had been with Boston since he was 18 years old. Boston was all he knew which makes blindsiding him like this particularly harsh. The poor guy cried all day and the Celtics lost to Denver that night as basketball was clearly not the first thing on their minds. It’s tough to tell if the Celtics are better because of this deal, but the Thunder definitely are. Oklahoma City is now a legitimate title contender and, if they make it to the finals, this trade could come back to haunt Ainge and the Celtics.