There is no doubt that Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the success the once struggling franchise has had over the past three years.
Following the 2006-07 season, when the Celtics finished a dismal 24-58 record and faced the prospect of losing star player Paul Pierce, who wanted to be put in the position to win, Ainge's craftiness allowed him to trade for power forward Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics.
Along with developing players such as Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, the team became an immediate title contender and won a title in 2008.
This has been the highlight of Ainge's stint within the front office of the Celtics. But sometimes when an executive has success, he begins to over-analyze his team to that team's detriment, and that may be what Ainge did by trading away Celtics starting center Kendrick Perkins.
Some may argue that Ainge's oft-criticized trade of Perkins was not nearly the slug-in-the-foot to the franchise that the media has made it out to be. Some say that Perkins only played 12 games for the Celtics during the regular season due to his recovery from offseason knee surgery and that statistically Jermaine O'Neal is putting up better numbers in the postseason.
But while these things are true—O'Neal is averaging 8.5 points, six rebounds, and 0.5 assists in the second round, while Perkins is averaging only two points, five rebounds and 1.5 assists against the Grizzlies—Perkins' defensive presence and intimidation are not shown in the stat sheet.
Plus, it was with Perkins that the Celtics advanced to the Finals, not the O'Neals, so the trade just assumed that Shaq and Jermaine, both on the downsides of their careers, would simply hold up over the grind of the regular season and postseason without any physical setbacks.
The trade also predicted that the chemistry between the new pieces like Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic and the Big Four would simply materialize overnight. The Celtics are finding out that creating the type of rapport with their new roster is a timely process, one that may take more than just two dozen games.
I certainly can understand Ainge's philosophy: He's making the best management decision for the team. In the era where LeBron James' "Decision" makes GMs more concerned over the prospect of losing important players without compensation, Ainge probably figured it was best to trade Perk and find some pieces to build around rather than face the prospect of Perkins walking over the summer.
But before the trade Boston looked poised to win the East's best record and was rounding into playoff form for one last title run in the Big Three era. After the trade, though, the Celtics became an older, slower version of the Heat, trying to figure out how all the new parts fit into the system. Suddenly, Miami became the team that had played more games together with its full roster than Boston. This was a devastating realization with only 26 games remaining in the regular season.
Some pundits have joked that the Perkins trade made Ainge a nominee for "Miami Heat GM of the Year," as it effectively dealt away Boston's defensive post presence. Whether or not the Celtics' fortunes would be different if Perkins was still their starting center is hard to say, but it's hard for anyone to watch the Celtics-Heat series and not feel that having a big, intimidating presence in the paint would certainly make Miami less capable of simply running in for layups and dunks.
Would Boston have fallen to the third seed if the trade had not occurred? It's tough to say. But by not letting this team either win or lose in its final year together on its own terms, Ainge made a grave miscalculation that may have doomed the team before it even had a chance to defend its conference title.