NBA Playoffs: Why Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge is Miami Heat MVP
Ainge's highly debated deadline deal of Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson for Oklahoma City's Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic was ominous to some at the time. Now, it might be turning out as quite the nightmare for this franchise and its aging core.
"You're just making excuses for the Celtics," some might say.
After all, Kendrick Perkins only played 12 games this season for Boston, averaging seven points and eight rebounds, while looking understandably rusty. He was hurt at the beginning of the season, hurt at the trade deadline and was going to be asking for a sizable raise this offseason.
Boston was already old and tired. Ainge was just looking for the future. Besides, the Celtics have only won ONE title. That makes this group a winner, not a dynasty. It's fair game to make changes if they're not getting it done together.
This trade made sense because Jeff Green is a nice prospect whom the Celtics had already drafted and traded away in the 2007 Ray Allen deal. Plus, Nenad Kristic was a more offensively gifted center who balanced better with Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal.
While those are valid points, and were actually my justification for the deal back in February, (while I was trying to stop my head from spinning), it now appears that the naysayers WERE right after all.
Here's why the Heat can be thankful that Danny Ainge unwittingly demolished the very contender he had built just four years ago.
Marquis Daniels' Injury Caused Kendrick Perkins Trade?
Marquis Daniels was one of the few Celtics bench players capable of providing a spark on both ends of the floor. His versatility allowed him to spot time at all three backcourt positions, and he finally seemed to be bouncing back from the previous year's injuries.
He suffered a frightening re-injury to his spine on February 6 against the Orlando Magic and never played for the Celtics again. Boston had Von Wafer and Delonte West as possible subs for Ray Allen, but they were without a backup for Paul Pierce.
Whether this event caused a chain reaction of panic that eventually led Danny Ainge to seek out Jeff Green as a replacement is unclear. However, there would have been no reason to trade for him were Marquis Daniels still healthy.
If Marquis Daniels had been healthy during mid-February, would Kendrick Perkins still be a Boston Celtic? Would that have made any difference versus this speeding Miami Heat title train?
Management's Psychological Vote of "No Confidence"
Watch this Boston Celtics team and you'll see a different group than the past three years.
It's not in their words, their play on the court or even in their body language.
It's in their eyes.
It didn't matter if that was only actually true during 2007's championship run. They BELIEVED it, and have so for the past three and a half seasons.
What's more, they got young players like Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins to buy into this mindset as well. They became a star and a top-tier role player, respectively, for doing so. They became part of the core five, the inner-circle, respected equals with the Big Three.
Around this core were added veterans who always deferred or were shipped away if they didn't. Young players, filled with awe, worked hard to fit into the "Ubuntu"-inspired tribe.
Danny Ainge reinforced this reality by allowing the tribe to grow naturally. The only ones that left were those who retired or failed to fall in line. Their accomplishments were supposed to speak for themselves, and the Celtics' core was supposed to ride or die together.
Call it a dream or a hallucination, but the very fact that Ainge shipped away a core member at the same time that Boston was LEADING the Eastern Conference was a clear message: "management has their doubts."
Watch the Celtics' eyes. Sure, they're going through all the same motions that have been on display for four seasons.
But the doubt is there.
Kendrick Perkins Deserved to Stay
Paul Pierce is a Boston Celtics' lifer. He played with a few good squads early in his career and then languished through the franchise's darkest period. He IS the Boston Celtics franchise of the past decade. There was no way he was getting traded.
Kevin Garnett single-handedly transformed Boston's attitude and defensive demeanor. His work ethic and over-the-top bravado became synonymous with the Celtics. There was no way he was getting traded.
Ray Allen made the biggest statistical sacrifices of all, giving up touches and transforming his role in order to fit. He survived making the big shots and the biggest scrutiny when he missed. His quiet yeoman's attitude meshed perfectly with his more vocal counterparts. There was no way he was getting traded.
Rajon Rondo's meteoric rise to all-star point guard was both a testament to his otherworldly quickness, ballhandling and instincts, as well as his ability to follow the Big Three's lead. He is the future. There was no way he was getting traded.
Kendrick Perkins transformed from being a disappointingly raw draft pick who occasionally flashed double doubles and 20-plus rebounding performances to one of the league's best post defenders and most physical big men.
His hard work and selfless attitude was an example for any incoming youngster. Perkins seemed to symbolize everything that was expected of a Celtics role player.
There was no way he should have been traded.
Danny Ainge ditched the very player who proved that the Celtic way worked.
Perkins Meshed Perfectly with Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett has always had an aversion to consistently shooting in the post. He unfortunately prefers 10 to 20 foot jumpers.
Kendrick Perkins can only be effective on offense when directly under the basket.
Kevin Garnett's mobility and length work perfectly as a high-post and help defender. His always slight frame keeps him from guarding the league's most bullish big men.
Kendrick Perkins specializes in bodying up low-post threats. His immense strength and toughness are offset by the need for a quick-footed teammate to cover the opponent's faster forwards.
Kevin Garnett has always been a high-rate rebounder. His length allows him to continue boarding respectably, but age is also robbing him of his quickness, lift and ability to crash the glass consistently.
Kendrick Perkins has never had much lift, but his timing, leverage and positioning technique have continued to improve over the years. While his rebounding rate isn't eye-popping, by always camping out below the basket, Perkins often keeps more than one opponent away from the ball.
Of the remaining Celtics big men, only Shaquille O'Neal can fulfill Perkins' roles...thus, why Shaq was surprisingly successful when paired with Garnett.
Yet, Shaq could never play as many minutes as Perkins could.
And now he hasn't been playing at all.
Shaq's Injury Magnifies Perkins' Absence
It was never clear whether "The Big Boston Bean" was supposed to start long-term or not.
Shaquille O'Neal supposedly signed on without any preconceived notions or promises.
There was never any conflict between Shaq and the incumbent, Kendrick Perkins, because "Perk" was already injured when the future Hall of Famer was brought on board.
Perkins rehabilitation was known to be a long-term project, and many wondered whether Shaq would probably need a heavy period of rest anyway by the time Kendrick got back. Either way, one or both was to effectively man the middle once the Playoffs rolled around.
Either way, Jermaine O'Neal wasn't supposed to be the starter.
Jermaine was signed as the third-string insurance policy. He was the most injury-prone of the group and the one with the biggest questions surrounding what might be left in the tank.
With Glen Davis also capable of playing alongside Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal was only expected to spot a few minutes at most, once he finished his own early-season rehab.
Now, even though Jermaine O'Neal has been impressively solid in his surprise starter's role, his bench absence has created a dangerously thin Celtics front line and a hole that neither Nenad Kristic or Big Baby have been able to fill effectively.
If Shaq were still healthy, then maybe people wouldn't notice how the rest of Boston's bigs are being forced out of their element.
If Kendrick Perkins were still around, then people wouldn't even have to notice that Shaq has been absent.
Danny Ainge Should Have Waited for Failure
Doc Rivers often liked to point out that his Boston Celtics had never lost a playoff series when their core five were healthy.
The problem was, that hadn't happened since 2008.
Kevin Garnett was hurt in 2009 and Kendrick Perkins was gone during the Finals in 2010.
Maybe that was just a pie-in-the-sky excuse, but it also served as motivation for this group. They legitimately believed the notion that they were unbeatable when all together and healthy.
Danny Ainge didn't give them time to find out.
Maybe they would still have looked tired, old and slow with Kendrick Perkins by the time they got to Miami this week. Maybe they would have still dropped the first two games. Maybe they would have lost the series anyway, as they're definitely in danger of doing now.
At least they would have done it together.
Then, there would have been fewer reasons for the core to feel betrayed by management. There would have been few if any available excuses if they couldn't get past a younger conference foe that was going to keep getting better.
Now, Celtics players and fans alike are left with a "what if" that doubles as both a shaky excuse and a legitimate question.
Nenad Kristic is Not the Right Replacement
Though he looks like he's 45, Nenad Kristic is actually only 27 years old. Early in his career with the New Jersey Net, Kristic appeared on the road to being an occasional all-star.
Though he looks ridiculously unathletic, Kristic is actually a rather mobile center who's a very good passer, a passable rebounder and a guy who's capable of occasionally scoring in the paint and more frequently via a steady jump shot.
His numbers actually INCREASED after being acquired by the Boston Celtics, rising a full two points and one rebound per game to a nine and seven average, respectively. He even dropped a couple of nice double-doubles during his first few starts with Boston.
So, what's the problem?
While Nenad Kristic isn't a bad player at all, he's not the best defender in the world. In fact, he's rather easy to overpower in the paint. This inability to take on the league's biggest bangers means that he doesn't pair well with Kevin Garnett defensively.
Let's put it this way, he's not a Dwight Howard or an Andrew Bynum stopper. Since neither Glen Davis nor anyone else on Boston's second unit can block shots, Nenad Kristic doesn't mesh well defensively with the Celtics' bench group either.
What's more, while Kristic can score via back door cuts, baby hooks and the occasional spin move, he would much rather settle for high post and baseline jumpers.
Hmm...doesn't that sound an awful lot like Kevin Garnett already?
Bringing in Kristic seemed to soften the blow of losing Kendrick Perkins. While it did guarantee that another 7-footer was back on the roster, it added a guy who was both duplicitous to Kevin Garnett offensively and disconnected from him on defense.
Nenad Kristic would have been a nice acquisition, but not now, not for this team, and not at the cost of Kendrick Perkins.
Jeff Green Wasn't Ready To Be a Celtic Yet
Jeff Green has been through the playoffs before. He's already played second fiddle to a superstar and he's proven to be a legitimate five-tool role player.
But he hasn't been ready for this yet.
Green was traded for a "core" member of the Boston Celtics. He was replacing a cornerstone part of a title-winning tribe that was in the hunt for another.
But, people were not happy that he was aboard.
In fact, not only were Celtics fans questioning whether his coming was a good idea or not, but consensus around the league seemed to be that this was a very bad move.
Jeff Green transitioned from a starter's role to the bench upon arrival, andhis minutes and key statistics all dropped by about two thirds. But that's not the big deal.
Jeff Green has played tight for two and a half months now. He's played with a weight on his shoulders, a pressure in his legs.
Green has had some good games and has even provided the occasional spark that Boston so desperately needs against Miami right now. Having a full offseason and regular season to mesh with the Celtics core would have undoubtedly produced a player who understood and was understood.
However, Green still appears to be an outsider right now. He still has something to prove. He's not a member of the core yet.
And he knows that.
Perkins' Trade Made No Sense with Boston's Other Moves
Semih Erden and Luke Harangody were not integral members of the Boston Celtics when they were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers back in February.
However, moving them at the same time that Boston's front line was already being fundamentally transformed was a horrible idea. Harangody might not have been more than a curious footnote, but Erden had actually been trusted with starter's minutes early in the season.
He had been passable during those appearances. His length and mobility paired well with either Celtics unit, and he appeared to have been accepted by his teammates.
Instead of having him on hand to step in when Shaquille O'Neal went down and Kendrick Perkins was gone, Semih Erden was banished to Cleveland for a couple of near-useless draft picks.
Why was this done at the trade deadline and not during the offseason, if at all?
Perkins Trade Should Have Waited Until After Season
The Boston Celtics might not have been able to beat the Miami Heat either way. Not in this universe or the alternate one where Danny Ainge didn't ship Kendrick Perkins away.
At the same time, they would have had a credible chance.
Had Perkins stayed, the Celtics' core five would have been together. They would have felt that management had their backs and that they were still invincible. That kind of confidence, even if it was nothing more than a temporary hallucination, is dangerous in the playoffs.
Their front line would still be deep enough to cause matchup problems with Miami's walking-dead center rotation. It would have been one of the few clear advantages that Boston had over the Heat.
The Celtics bench would have been mentally connected and committed to the starting five. They would have had the spark players who knew they were trusted, even when they failed.
There would still be a mystique around this team going into the playoffs, rather than a shadow darkened by two and a half months of questions.
The Miami Heat would have had every reason to fear that they were still facing a regular season juggernaut bent on returning to the Finals for the third time in four years. Instead, they're facing a team that spent a third of the season wallowing through a chemistry swamp. One that they clearly haven't gotten out of yet.
The Boston Celtics might not have beaten the Miami Heat.
But Pat Riley should be thanking Danny Ainge for making it so much easier.