The 2011 trade of Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder was a bummer. From an emotional perspective, watching one of our championship starters—a seven-year Celtic we drafted out of high school—get traded away during a playoff push was akin to first-love breakup or a high school graduation. Innocence was lost and we would never feel quite the same.
From a pragmatic perspective, many regard the trade as irrational and lopsided in favor of the Oklahoma City Thunder (I disagree). Media and fans alike speculated whether the trade cost the Celtics a legitimate shot at the 2011 championship. The fact that the Thunder advanced further in this season’s playoffs (while still arguably positioned better for future success) did nothing to cheer distraught Boston fans.
With his succession of deadline trades, Dealer Danny Ainge seemed to be putting all of his eggs in the O’Neal Brothers (Doc Rivers TM) basket for the playoffs, relying on the health and productivity of Shaquille and Jermaine. As we now know, the inclusion of another healthy and productive center on the roster may have proved wise.
Although the Perkins trade garners all the publicity and invites criticism and second-guessing, the subsequent trade of Semih Erden and Luke Harangody to Cleveland for a 2013 second-round pick (really, it couldn’t have at least been in a deep 2012 draft?) proves much less defensible from a Celtic perspective for at least six reasons:
- Perkins was only half the outflow. The Celtics also rid themselves of Nate Robinson and his contract which continues into 2012.
- The Celtics actually acquired two good assets in the Perkins trade: an option to re-sign restricted agent Jeff Green and a future first-round draft pick from the Los Angeles Clippers which could turn out to be a lottery pick in a deep 2012 draft depending on whether the Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves advance to the playoffs next season. Ainge, known for his shrewd drafting among other things, has never drafted from a lottery position.
- Perkins was a depreciating asset at the time of the trade. Perkins enjoys a career PER (John Hollinger’s advanced metric attempting to place a relative value on player performance through box score statistics) of 12.7. This number dipped to 9.6 over the course of last season, and was even lower after his injury and trade to Oklahoma City, as he was only able to muster a PER of 9.1 for the Thunder, according to statistics provided by basketball-reference.com.
From a “Win Shares (Bill James’ estimate of a basketball player’s contributions to his team’s record which accounts for defensive contributions better than Hollinger’s PER metric)” perspective, Perkins’ contribution to his teams was a collective 1.0, well below his career average of 2.81. His Win Shares/48 minutes was only about 60 percent of his career norm, reflecting the fact that injured time spent not playing did not account for this difference.
- Semih Erden was as productive as Perkins was last year by either metric, outpacing Perkins 10.3 to 9.6 in PER and 1.4 to 1.0 in Win Shares. His Win Share/48 minutes of .115 not only represents an improvement over Perkins’ 2011 WS/48 of .063 and Perkins’ career WS/48 of .102, but it mirrors that of Perkins’ prime (.156 at age 23, .119 at age 24, .117 at age 25) before Perkins began to suffer regular injuries.
In other words, Erden is projecting out in very similar fashion as Perkins without the injury history and at a fraction of the cost. Semih was as productive as Perkins last year and will only get better.
- The Celtics received a 2013 Cleveland second-round selection in exchange for an above league-average (factoring defense) 7-foot tall 24-year old rookie on a minimum salary with a team option for next season. Since the expected value of a current—much less future—second-round pick lies below that of Erden, the ostensible “value” the Celtics received was a roster spot vacancy to be filled by a more valuable free-agent veteran.
- While Perkins’ roster spot was assumed by Jeff Green, Erden’s was taken by Troy Murphy, or Carlos Arroyo, or someone else who did not play or contribute during the playoffs. Moreover, the return of either of these players to next season’s Celtics squad is doubtful. And given the fact that Erden is on a minimum contract with team option, he does not represent a future liability with respect to salary cap flexibility or roster spots.
In sum, while the Perkins trade stings in the short-term, the value received is at least adequate and the logic behind it sound. In contrast, the Erden trade may haunt Boston fans much longer. Not only did the result not pan out, the logic behind trading a young 7-foot athletic rookie center to free up a roster spot for veteran castoffs is suspect at best. If Erden continues to develop, Ainge may have unwittingly created his own Jeff Bagwell/Larry Anderson moment.