A Toast to Danny Ainge: “Thank You for Ridding Us of Kendrick Perkins”

He is an ATM that spits out turnovers. He can’t shoot free throws. He has trouble finishing anything in traffic. He can’t dribble. Or catch. He was a magnet for techs and illegal screens. And he struggles when he is asked to guard a quick big. So why is anyone, outside of his friends on the Celtics, upset that Boston traded Kendrick Perkins yesterday afternoon? Because he is a really good guy?

It’s no secret that I am a “bear” when it comes to Kendrick Perkins. I have been short this stock for ages and If you need an explanation why, it’s all here. So when I heard yesterday’s news, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. It wasn’t quite a “our long national nightmare is over” moment but it certainly warranted a toast. “Here is to Danny Ainge … thank you for sparing us a future where we have to cringe every time our center touches the ball. Cheers!”

Predictably, the national media didn’t join my toast. Instead, guys like Jalen Rose and Chris Broussard claimed the trade had seriously weakened Boston and compromised the club’s winning playoff formula. John Hollinger was a bit more charitable, claiming it was a risky move by Danny Ainge but justifiable if you believe that Boston’s biggest threats are Miami and San Antonio, not Orlando and Los Angeles. And the voters of New England? Well, it turns out the early returns were overwhelmingly negative as the region let the suddenness of the move interfere with its ability to reason.

But all this hang-wringing was to be expected, even if the actual trade wasn’t. I say that because the national guys love Perkins and see him as some sort of critical cog in the Celtics engine. “He’s an underrated big who sets devastating screens, rebounds his position and can play Dwight Howard straight up.” That is the bullish thesis on Perkins. But this buy recommendation completely ignores all of Kendrick’s warts. And those warts are what make Perkins a fairly mediocre starting center who doesn’t measure up to the mystique that some, like Mike Breen, have tried to create.

While the trade certainly came as a surprise, I mentioned in a coincidental post yesterday that the Celts were going to face a difficult decision with Perkins this offseason. Do they pay him $8M-10M over the next four seasons, making it much more difficult for the club to reload? Or do they plow those resources elsewhere?

Ainge, I thought, was inclined to pick door number one. Clearly I was wrong as Ainge found a way to deal from strength, bring in some valuable pieces and buy the Celtics some flexibility as they prepare to re-build in 2012 and beyond. By moving yesterday, Ainge picked up a very valuable asset in Jeff Green. A twenty-minute center in Kristic who can spread things out and keep opposing centers away from the basket. A first-round pick in 2012 that looks great in a “hard salary cap” world where rookie contracts become more valuable. And finally, they shed themselves of Nate Robinson, a fairly worthless player who will cost OKC four million dollars next season.

Folks, that all adds up to a win for Boston. Granted, Ainge is now making a big bet on Shaq’s Achilles and, to a lesser extent, Jermaine O’Neal’s knee. But if the Celts have a pair of healthy O’Neals in April, Perkins was basically redundant. In fact, if you look at the +/- numbers, the Celts first unit this season has actually been a bit better with Shaq than with Kendrick. Some of this is because the schedule was tougher during Perkins run but the fact of the matter is Shaq gives you most of what you get from Perkins while Kristic gives you a little something extra.  And when you consider that Green gives the Celts a versatile and energetic player off the bench, this trade looks particularly attractive.

A side benefit here is that going forward, the Celts future is more clear this morning as the diffiuclt decision has already been made. Sure, they are short a center in 2012, but Shaq could be back, Jermaine is under contract and I guess Ainge figures he can augment the position by signing Kristic to a short-term deal or he can blow his mid-level exception on a defensive minded big. Someone like a Joel Pryzbilla or Samuel Dalembert. Further, with Green looming as a restricted free agent and Big Baby out there as an unrestricted free agent, I suspect this sets the Celts up to sign one, but not both. My hunch says Green will be the one playing next season in Boston. But if just one of these two can be inked to a reasonable deal, the Celts should be in decent “cap” shape after the 2012 season so if they have designs on Dwight Howard, they will probably be in a position to move.

But all that is secondary today because what really matters to the Celtics is 2011. And with that in mind, I have a hard time figuring out how the Celtics are not considerably better today than they were yesterday. Sure, there is some risk here. And if Shaq blows a tire next month, the Celts will be forced to fight with Nenad and Jermaine, which isn’t exactly Parrish and Walton. In that event, Ainge will face some heat. But as I see it, he pulled off a gangsta move yesterday that nobody expected. In doing so, he showed courage and imagination. That is something I am willing to toast.

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