Celtics

Ranking the Ainge Trades: Debating the Kendrick Perkins blockbuster (No. 28)

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Danny Ainge has made 60 trades since being hired as the president of basketball operations for the Celtics in May 2003. With no basketball on the horizon for at least the next two months, BSJ contributor Ryan Bernardoni and I teamed up for an enjoyable, albeit challenging endeavor: Ranking the Ainge trades from worst to best overall.

To accomplish this task, Ryan created a formula that allowed us to grade the deal based on a variety of factors (importance, quality) while also evaluating the deal at the time a trade was made and in hindsight (years later). Some deals will get the benefit of hindsight more than others in this exercise but we did our best to account for those issues. The end result is the following ranking from 60-1 with an analysis/explanation of each deal. We will unveil roughly 10 of these trades every day for the next week, counting down to the top. We’ll also fight about a couple in which we have substantially different evaluations of how Ainge fared with them.

We looked at part one of the series on Wednesday and some forgettable ones on Thursday. For Day 3, we will spent our time debating the most polarizing deal in Ainge's tenure in Boston: Trading Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a 2012 first-round pick.  

Ryan Bernardoni: I think there's only one way to start an evaluation of the trade of Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green and it's with a question:

How much do you think the trade lowered the Celtics' probability of winning the title in 2011?

Brian Robb: That's a fair question. I think it was a small amount given Perk's injury situation, maybe 5-10 percent of the C’s chances. He was going to miss a month of the regular season at the time of the deal with a knee injury, so that needs to be considered. In hindsight, he was never the same player after his torn ACL, but that was not fully apparent yet at the time of this trade.

I understand Ainge's inclination to deal Perk at the time. He was going to walk at the end of the regular season for nothing (C’s couldn’t afford him since they were already well into luxury tax). The Celtics (on paper) had enough depth at center to afford losing him and needed some help to fill a glaring hole at the bench wing once Marquis Daniels went down with a season-ending injury. The problem I have with this deal was expecting Green to be the right fit to solve the wing problem. Trading Perk needed to get the Celtics a meaningful upgrade elsewhere in the lineup, and neither Jeff Green nor Nenad Kristic provided that in 2011 (or beyond in meaningful spots). I think Ainge's bigger problem here was leaving himself vulnerable at the wing heading into 2010-11, which forced him into making a deal like this. He never should have let Tony Allen walk that offseason (C's paid Nate Robinson instead) since it left the C's lacking dependable depth once Daniels and Delonte West got hurt.

Green was an inefficient third option for his entire career in OKC despite being surrounded by some young All-Star talent in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. I’d be curious to hear what other options Ainge was looking at during this trade deadline while shopping Perk, but he bet on the wrong horse, which hurt the Celtics in 2010-11 and beyond. The other parts of the trade netted nothing (Krstic walked in FA, Fab Melo was the OKC first-round pick in a weak draft in 2012), so the barometer for me to measure this deal was Green's career with the Celtics and that doesn't bode well for judging this trade over the long-term (even though the C's suckered Chris Wallace into giving up a protected first-round pick for Green in 2015).

Do you think Perkins would have helped more than Green and Kristic that postseason? Couldn't Ainge have done a lot better here?

Bernardoni: That 5-10% decrease seems awfully high to me. If you really think trading Perk knocked their title odds down by that much it's a bad deal, unless by a 10% drop you mean it dropped from 10% to 9%. Kevin Garnett gave them a 10% chance at the title, not Kendrick Perkins!

The problem that people have with the trade is not giving up Perkins, who went on to play 17 games in OKC that season at below replacement level and then another 17 playoff games where he was even worse. When he was traded it was in the last year of his contract so that offseason he signed a lucrative new deal that was almost immediately a candidate for amnesty. It's possible that if the Thunder hadn't signed him they would never have felt the pressure to trade Harden. It's also possible that if they hadn't felt the need to keep playing the obviously unhelpful Perk in the playoffs they would have won a title even without Harden.

Perkins was a clear negative asset from the moment after Ainge traded him through the end of his career.

For that, Ainge got Jeff Green who gave over 200 games of roughly league-average wing play, despite missing an entire season for heart surgery. He was miscast as the heir apparent to Paul Pierce, but that's not his fault. He was a solid player doing a job that's hard to fill around the league for a fair salary. As evidence of this, he was traded TWICE more for first-round picks.

I don't think Perkins would have helped the Celtics in that playoffs. The Heat were just a much better team and as a point of interest Jermaine O'Neal played better for Boston than Perkins did for the Thunder. If anything, a healthy Green could conceivably have been the difference in the 2012 series against Miami.

The second question I can only answer with a question in return. Ainge traded an injured, expiring, negative player for one who gave 2.5 seasons of acceptable production and then was traded for a pick that, up until six months ago, was viewed as one of the more premium ones in the league. He also got a 1st round pick when initially making the trade. You ask if he could have done a lot better here. How much better could you expect?

Robb: Good call on clarifying the odds statement. I meant the percentage as a fraction of the team's chances as you said. Let's say the C's had a 30 percent chance of winning the title that year, so trading Perk moved that down to roughly 25-27 percent by this math. Not because of him specifically but because of all the moving parts involved with the fallout of the deal (Green not ready for primetime, relying on the O'Neals, continuity and chemistry factor, etc.). The locker room was devastated at least initially when Perk was dealt, and that means something.

Perkins may have turned into a negative asset quickly in his career after signing a new deal with OKC but he wasn't that yet in this moment. He was the incumbent starting center for an elite defense for the past three seasons. He clearly had value at this point, which is why I'm not knocking the idea to trade him in the first place.

Perkins would have had a good chance at helping the C's that postseason. Jermaine O'Neal was playing with a broken wrist in the postseason and was a disappointment during all of his two seasons here thanks to constant injury issues and butting heads with Doc Rivers. Shaquille O'Neal was a walking injury risk at age 38 and played two games that postseason. Glen Davis had lost his confidence during the 2010-11 season and played miserably against the Heat. Krstic barely got off the bench at all in the playoffs. These were the days when the Heat was still playing Joel Anthony or Zyndrunas Illgauskas 40 combined minutes a game at center and Perkins could have helped the C's win that battle and tighten up the defense and rebounding for the C's in a series that was largely a defensive struggle. Even with a weak frontcourt, Boston was one shot away from being tied up 2-2 at the Garden despite Rajon Rondo's arm being snapped in half by Dwyane Wade in Game 3.

The Green heart issue ahead of the 2012 lockout season was unfortunate obviously, and I do wonder whether the C's would have pulled the plug on this deal in 2011 if they knew about it. (The C's were later awarded a second-round pick and cash after it was revealed the Thunder failed to disclose the heart issue in their medicals). What are your thoughts on that?

As far as the trade return, I guess I was expecting some kind of an upgrade/above-average player for Perkins. Green and Krstic were not battle-tested (their playoff numbers in OKC fell off a cliff). The first-round pick (Fab Melo, RIP) ended up being useless in a weak 2012 first-round draft class. The rumor has always been that the C's were angling for Harden in the deal (obviously wasn't going to happen) but got sold on Green instead with other assets. The C's needed a role player wing that could complement their stars, and Green wasn't that in OKC. Expecting him to be that in Boston as a midseason addition was a bad bet. Perk (or a different trade addition) gives the C's a better chance against Miami.

Do you think that Green's presence in Boston was a net positive in any way during his seasons here (besides netting the C's a first-round pick that likely will fall in the late teens)?