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Boston’s Danny Ainge learned from history, tries to avoid repeating it

Feb 24, 2011, 7:50 PM EDT

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Getty Images

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.

  1. passerby23 - Feb 24, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    I think there is also the school of thought that you have to build a team that makes you better, not necessarily entertaining playoff matchups that may or may not happen. I don’t necessarily agree with it.

    Perhaps Ainge sees that Orlando is struggling and even with a dominant Howard, can still be beaten. The Heat is a serious concern, but with Daniels done, they really had to think about getting a quality player to play behind Pierce. Also remember that Pierce is liable to get in foul trouble guarding a Lebron or Wade and so Jeff Green becomes pretty valuable.

    If Shaq and JO come back healthy, it might be enough. If they don’t, Krstic and centre-by-committee might not be.

  2. musilly - Feb 24, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Okay, some good context up there. Perk turning down 4/$22…this move makes more sense then. I’d rather get something than nothing, even if that something consists of Green and Nenad.

  3. jtartarkin - Feb 24, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    2 of the celtics 3 wins against the heat this season were without perkins

    • zackd2 - Feb 24, 2011 at 9:15 PM

      You mean Game 1 and Game 9 of the season? Good sample size.

    • scorp16 - Feb 24, 2011 at 9:36 PM

      They needed all 15 of Perkins’ points and 6 rebounds in the third game. Won by 3 in Boston and you’re annointing yourself already?

      Don’t think Perk is important. Good Luck to You in late May…

      What A Mind F*ck Riley is pulling when the Heat comes in to Boston with Z at 7″3″, Damp at 6″11″ and either Dalmebert, or Curry at 7″0 (depending on who gets bought out, and you better hope it’s not SamD who has a house in Boca Raton)……You may be missing Perks by then…

      You get Murphy…we’ll get Bibby or TJ Ford….Gonna be a fun series but guarantee you will miss Perks….

      • Colin Zvosec - Feb 25, 2011 at 2:47 AM

        Re-read that sentence and realize you listed Z, Damp, and Eddy Curry as the three Heat bigs. SERIOUSLY? Z is a corpse, Damp is… well, Damp, and Eddy Curry hasn’t played a real basketball game in about 5 years.

        (Dalembert is another story, but we’ll see what happens with him).

  4. zackd2 - Feb 24, 2011 at 9:12 PM

    I can’t wait for Perk to throw an elbow at KG, and watch KG drop into the fetal position when someone bigger than him pics on him

  5. jebdamone - Feb 24, 2011 at 9:33 PM

    i agree with you passerby. to me this trade has to come down to their depth at the 3 spot. with marquis likely done (is that official?) for the season they are very thin at that spot. i like green, think he is a good young player but i don’t think the C’s can win another title without Perk.

  6. sbs0311 - Feb 24, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    Wait a second, I know you mentioned Bias, but I don’t think Ainge could do anything to prevent the next two cornerstones of his team from DYING if that’s what the fates held.

    Silly premise for an article.

  7. king7key - Feb 25, 2011 at 3:10 AM

    danny is one smart man…perk was going to leave anyway(he got something out the deal)…celtics have enough to make it to the finals without him(only played in 12 games this season so far and they have the best record)…plus he just made the road to the finals tougher for Lakers or Spurs who pretty much was gone skip thru playoff up to finals…whoever comes out the west is going thru a dogfight to get to finals and will be just as beat up as the team coming out the east…ainge leveled the playing field and got something in return

  8. j0esixpack - Feb 25, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    Perk isnt yet 100% and might not be this season. Big Baby is a better banger than Perk right now. If Ainge thought he could not contribute now and he’d be gone next season, why nor trade him and get the backup he needs for Pierce? Robinson will be missed but hopefully others can backup Rondo. There’s clearly moves yet to be made in buyouts too so this trade is not yet complete.

    The bottom line is that this team has beaten the best in the league without Perl in the lineup all year and now they have more. Some Celtics fans want to see the same playoff team as last year but the competition is different in 2011 and Ainge is adapting the team to that reality for now and the future.

  9. chicagofan - Feb 25, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    I’m a Cleltics season ticket holder and there was talk in Boston that Perkins might end up in Miami at the end of this season. Why risk making the Heat stronger for the next 5yrs vs sending him to the Western Conference to give the Lakers and Spurs etc trouble. They got a far better deal than Toronto, Cleveland,Utah or Phoenix got last yr by hoping a free agent would choose to stay.Strategically this was an excellent long term move but clearly a short term risk of not being big enough this year.I’m surprised the most sports commentators have missed the significance of shipping him out of the Eastern Conference.

  10. Kansachusetts - Feb 27, 2011 at 2:06 AM

    Good post by Helin.
    Let’s all just remember that Shaq and Jermaine at their best are not giving the Celts serious minutes. Not now, not ever.
    Now try to run those rosy scenarios again.

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