When the Boston Celtics powerhouse teams of the ‘80s wound down, the wheels came off that franchise. There were a lot of factors; Len Bias was a big one.
Current Celtics GM Danny Ainge — a member of those teams — has said the Celtics made a mistake trying to ride the wave all the way in to shore, then they couldn’t paddle back out. They were not aggressive enough in dealing with the decline, something Zach Lowe reminded us of at Sports Illustrated.
Thursday ainge put that history lesson into action. He traded Kendrick Perkins (and Nate Robinson) for an overrated forward in Jeff Green and a nice backup center in Nenad Krstic.
It’s a move that makes the Celtics worse today. They have Glen Davis, but they are now counting on Shaquille O’Neal (and to a lesser degree Jermaine O’Neal) to be healthy and stay healthy through the playoffs. Kevin Garnett and his iron will are still there. But Perkins will now be scowling at Kevin Durant.
Boston did not become weak with this move — they are still a contender in the East. They had the best record in the East when he was out. They still could get another banner this year. They still have Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They traded Semih Erden and Luke Harangody to free up roster spaces so they go get Troy Murphy — not Rasheed Wallace, he’s not coming — or someone else who is bought out. They will still be in the title hunt no matter what.
The risk is in the playoff matchups. Perkins is a good post defender. He was their man against Dwight Howard. Shaq cannot handle Howard as well and is far more foul prone. Big Baby struggles against him. It’s going to take a team effort. Thing is, the Celtics old strategy was to leave Perkins on an island with Howard and take away everyone else because Perk could slow Howard. This changes that game. But the Magic still have a host of other non-Howard problems, and Boston would still be a favorite.
But what about the Heat? Will the defense be the same when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade come driving into the lane? And the biggest threat, what about the Lakers? Andrew Bynum and Paul Gasol played volleyball with each other at the net in Game 7 when Perkins was out last season. Maybe the Lakers can’t get by the Spurs, but is that the risk you take.
Perkins might have left this summer for nothing. Boston made a four-year, $22 million offer to him (the max extension offer they could make off his current deal) and he turned it down. Perkins wants to get paid. Ainge didn’t want to risk that future, so he made a move. He got a good pick from the Clippers, and the Celtics don’t get a lot of quality picks (theirs are usually late in the round) so that is a plus. He got Jeff Green, who the Celtics drafted and maybe can start to approach the potential of his athleticism. The Celtics also have Rondo, who will be at the heart of their rebuilding efforts.
But to trade a core player in the middle of a championship window? That’s a ballsy move. A big risk. If Boston wins it all, Ainge looks genius. He has kept winning and started a transition to the future.
But if they don’t, if the Celtics lose somewhere along the line — especially to a team with great play up front — Ainge is going to hear it. Because most people want to ride that wave all the way into shore.