Acquired forward Jeff Green, center Nenad Krstic and the L.A. Clippers' 2012 first-round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for guard Nate Robinson and center Kendrick Perkins. [2/24]
Acquired a 2013 second-round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for forward Luke Harangody and center Semih Erden. [2/24]
Acquired a 2017 second-round pick from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for forward Marquis Daniels and cash considerations. [2/24]
The Celtics are tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference, and if you took a straw poll of NBA analysts this morning, there was a pretty good chance they would have said Boston was the favorite to win the championship. So while a move of some sort was expected of the Celtics, who recently lost their only backup small forward in Daniels to a bruised spinal cord, nobody anticipated a shakeup of this order.
The underlying question here is what caused Boston to lose faith in Perkins, a core member of the starting lineup the Celtics love to point out has never been beaten in a playoff series (and now never will be). Was it Perkins' health as he battles back from the torn ACL that kept him out of Game Seven of last year's NBA Finals? His unwillingness to accept the contract extension the team recently offered him and a fear he might leave as a free agent after the season? The team's ability to survive without Perkins for the first two months of the season? Or the changing outlook of matchups in the Eastern Conference?
If health is the explanation, Danny Ainge and the team's doctors know something we don't--and, apparently, that Oklahoma City does not either. Perkins' numbers this season are poor, largely because of an exorbitant turnover rate, but he seemed to move well and the Celtics played just fine with him on the floor.
A financial motivation seems more reasonable. Boston was limited in what it could offer Perkins as an extension to his current contract, which is a tremendous bargain--Perkins is making just $4.6 million in this, the final season on his deal, meaning an extension would have to start at barely $5 million per year. Ainge may have feared what Perkins might command on the open market, given that the Celtics are also well into the luxury tax. There's also the long term to consider. Boston's books are relatively clean after the summer of 2012, which Ainge has apparently targeted as the time to rebuild. A new contract for Perkins would cut into the team's flexibility.
The best argument for this deal would seem to be the Celtics' success this year. After all, they've reached the top spot in the East with Perkins playing just 300-some minutes, so it's not like the team needs him to play at a very high level. Moreover, while Shaquille O'Neal has replaced Perkins in the starting lineup, Boston has won with a slightly different style. The Celtics' single most-used lineup (and two of the top five) features Glen "Big Baby" Davis in the frontcourt alongside Kevin Garnett, a tandem without a true center.
Against the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard, Perkins' post defense is invaluable. The other East contenders, however, don't present that kind of challenge in the paint. Stopping the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat is more about matching up with quickness and help defense. Adding Green gives Boston another option against smaller lineups, as he can slide to the four alongside Garnett in addition to backing up Pierce. Surely, much of Ainge's logic was that the Celtics could improve in the future (both financially and with the draft pick from the Clippers, which is apparently top-10 protected through 2016, indicating it should be somewhere in the teens whenever Boston gets it) without sacrificing much this season.
I don't entirely agree with that logic, however. Even an improved Davis still rates as worse than Perkins has the last several seasons. Additionally, the Celtics have been weaker with Davis on the floor this season. Then there's the matter of the players Boston got, who simply aren't very good. Krstic is adequate as a backup center and nothing more, which does make him an upgrade on Erden. Green, for all his talent, has simply never found a way to be productive statistically in Oklahoma City. Perhaps he will be more effective as a small forward than he was playing the four for the Thunder, but that's usually not how it works. Virtually always, combo forwards put up bigger numbers at power forward, which is offset by weaker defense.
Deployed appropriately, I think Perkins would have been an asset in this year's postseason. He was hardly a specialist for the Celtics in the past; he averaged 25 minutes a night in the 2010 playoffs against a variety of matchups. Boston will miss Perkins' rebounding, his screen setting and his improved help defense. Right now, the Celtics are counting on O'Neal to stay healthy, and that's a lot to ask of a player who's about to turn 39 and has a history of missing games.
In a conference that has three elite teams at the top, even a slight decline can be magnified by the competition. That's the risk Boston is taking here. If the Celtics fall short in the postseason, this trade may well be part of the explanation.
It remains to be seen what Boston will do with the three roster spots it cleared in today's other deals. The Celtics filled one, at least temporarily, by calling up Chris Johnson from the D-League on a 10-day contract, as reported by Scott Schroeder of Fanhouse.com. Boston clearly has its eye on Troy Murphy when he gets bought out of his contract and might try to add a ballhandler to replace Nate Robinson and provide some insurance at the point, were the Celtics currently have just Rajon Rondo and Delonte West. Former Boston forward Leon Powe, waived by the Cavaliers to make room for the players dealt to them by the Celtics, could be another candidate for a spot.
Acquired forward Dante Cunningham, centers Sean Marks and Joel Przybilla, New Orleans' 2011 first-round pick, a 2013 first-round pick and cash considerations from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for forward Gerald Wallace. [2/24]
Acquired guard Morris Peterson and forward D.J. White from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for center Nazr Mohammed. [2/24]
For the better part of this season, when the Basketball Prospectus group has convened for roundtables, the Bobcats have been a de rigueur suggestion for which team ought to blow it up. Charlotte still harbored aspirations of reaching the playoffs this season, but those hopes were fading (the Bobcats had just a 22.9 percent chance of sneaking in based on John Hollinger's Playoff Odds) and the team would have been a speedbump for Boston or Miami anyway. It was time to shed some salary, a process that started by dumping Wallace.
In addition to the cap relief provided by Przybilla's sizeable contract, Charlotte adds some talent in the form of draft picks. By holding out a day, the Bobcats were apparently able to turn yesterday's rumored first-round pick into a pair. Charlotte will have to wait a while for the 2013 pick and it's unclear what the conditions are on that pick, but Tom Ziller smartly points out that the additional picks give the Bobcats flexibility to move their own first-rounders they previously lacked because their 2012 selection was dealt to Chicago for Tyrus Thomas at last year's deadline.
Charlotte also got a pair of semi-interesting pieces in Cunningham and White, acquired from Oklahoma City in exchange for renting Mohammed the rest of the year. My only question is where those guys will play. When Thomas returns from knee surgery, the Bobcats will have few minutes available at power forward. If Thomas slides to small forward, it could clear playing time for Cunningham and White at their natural position.
Acquired guard Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for guard Mo Williams and forward Jamario Moon. [2/24]
Acquired forward Luke Harangody and center Semih Erden from the Boston Celtics in exchange for a 2013 second-round pick. [2/24]
When David Aldridge first reported on Twitter than the Cavaliers and Clippers were considering swapping their point guards, it seemed like a bad joke, one of those silly trade conversations that are forgotten within two weeks of the deadline. Instead, within the hour, the deal had been confirmed. Eventually, the full picture of the deal came out, making it more sensible for Cleveland with the addition of the Clippers' first-round pick. But the initial deal--and Davis' reputation for lackadaisical play--tainted the whole thing.
Clearly, the Cavaliers' motivation was adding a pick that currently would be eighth entering the lottery. The Clippers could move a fair bit in either direction depending on how well they play with Williams and how quickly Eric Gordon returns, but eighth is a reasonable guess at the pick Cleveland is getting. So what is that pick worth? According to the research I did last year as part of the Summer 2010 Preview series, an eighth pick can be expected to produce about $25 million of value in wins on average during his rookie contract. Over the same period, based on the current CBA, he'd be paid $10 million. That implies a value of $15 million for the eighth pick, were teams able to pay that much for it in actual cash.
The Cavaliers couldn't do that, but they could swallow the difference between Davis' and Williams' contracts, both of which run through the 2012-13 season. Over that span, Davis will be paid $15.4 million more than Williams (per ShamSports.com). Because Jamario Moon was included in the deal, this year's money is about a wash, so call it $12.4 million.
According to Chad Ford, part of the reason the Clippers were willing to make this trade is their pessimism about this year's draft, which could be weakened by players who don't want to come out early only to get locked out. In that case, the pick might be worth less than usual.
Even though this deal has nothing to do with the performance of the players involved, acquiring Davis still represents a risk to the Cavaliers if he is going to mail it in for the next two-years plus. Cleveland has to hope that at some point Davis' desire to get another deal beyond his current one will kick in and serve as a motivational factor. His attitude is an issue to the extent that it infects the young players the Cavaliers acquire during that span. Given that, I'm not sure this is a move I would have made, but it's also possible to understand what Cleveland was thinking.
Later in the day, the Cavaliers picked up a couple of rookie reserves from Boston for a song. Erden figures to have the greater impact as a slightly better version of incumbent Cleveland reserve Ryan Hollins. Erden is already 24 and limited as a rebounder, so there's not a lot of upside, but he's serviceable. Harangody is a longer shot. While he's had his moments as a rookie, he's shooting just 44.1 percent from the field and will struggle to improve that mark because of his lack of size and athleticism.
Acquired forward DeMarre Carroll, center Hasheem Thabeet and a first-round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for guard Ishmael Smith and forward Shane Battier. [2/24]
Acquired guard Goran Dragic and a first-round pick from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for guard Aaron Brooks. [2/24]
By all accounts, no one wanted to make a deadline deal more than the Rockets and Daryl Morey. Instead of making a blockbuster, Houston had to settle for a pair of smaller deals that got value for impending free agents. Brooks had fallen out of favor and behind Kyle Lowry in the rotation at point guard, while longtime favorite Battier was likely to head elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent. In exchange, the Rockets get two first-round picks and a pair of reclamation projects.
Let's take Thabeet first. Everyone knows how horribly he's played this season. I cannot believe that this reflects his true talent level. While the second overall pick was a reach for Thabeet, most everyone involved agreed he was a top-10 pick if not a top-5 pick a year and a half ago. As a rookie, Thabeet was embarrassing at times yet serviceable, and it is inexplicable why he's regressed so dramatically since then. In Houston, Thabeet has a chance to be a center prospect rather than the guy picked over Tyreke Evans, which may help his self-confidence. I think this has the potential to be a Darko Milicic-type situation, and I mean that in a positive way. The biggest downside here is that Thabeet's salary is awfully high for next season and the Rockets will have to decide by next fall whether to guarantee the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.
Dragic is equally interesting. In his career, he's bounced back and forth between solid prospect and cover-your-eyes awful, with little in between. Based on his inability to hit from three, Dragic's True Shooting Percentage has dropped below 50 percent this season. That hasn't stopped him from using 24.2 percent of Phoenix's possessions while on the floor. Even in the best of times, Dragic was a turnover machine, so he has been one of the league's least efficient offensive players. Houston holds a team option on Dragic for next season, and while the money isn't bad ($2.1 million), he needs to show signs of growth over the next two months to ensure his roster spot.
As for the picks, both are heavily protected. The Suns surrender their own first-round pick this year if they make the playoffs; otherwise, the Rockets get Orlando's first-round pick, which will likely be in the mid-20s. Because Memphis' 2011 pick was dealt to Utah (and then on to Minnesota) at last year's deadline with lottery protection, it appears Houston won't get this pick until at least two years after the Grizzlies make the playoffs. Even then, they may have to count on Memphis making another playoff run during the year in question. So don't count on that pick any time soon.
The last issue is how the Rockets divvy up Battier's minutes. Chase Budinger, fresh off a career-high 30 points last night in Cleveland, likely steps into the starting lineup for an extended audition. The deal should also mean Terrence Williams gets a chance to show his wares at the NBA level after riding the pine most of the season. It's an opportunity that might be his last good one.
Los Angeles Clippers
Acquired guard Mo Williams and forward Jamario Moon from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for guard Baron Davis and a 2011 first-round pick. [2/24]
From the Clippers' perspective, this deal seems to largely be about cap space. In the 2012-13 season, the last of both players' contracts, Williams will make $8.5 million as compared to $14.75 million for Davis. That figure is low enough that there is even a chance Williams opts out entirely. The Clippers currently have but $24.5 million committed for 2012-13, assuming they pick up all of the options for their players on rookie contracts (Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin). An extension for Eric Gordon and a new contract for DeAndre Jordan will add to that total, but still should leave the Clippers in position to make a run at one of the marquee free agents who could be on the market that summer.
In the meantime, Williams is far more reliable yet less ideal as a fit than Davis. The Clippers won't miss Davis' low-percentage attempts from beyond the arc, but they also won't get the benefit of as many easy buckets or transition scores with Williams' more conservative style. One interesting possibility is how much of the gap can be plugged by Gordon once he returns from his wrist injury, likely within the next week. Gordon's assist rate has spiked this season, making him a candidate to take a larger share of ballhandling responsibility and team with Griffin in the two-man game.
Beyond their pessimism about the 2011 Draft, the Clippers surely were also willing to make this move because they have so much young talent on hand already. The Clippers could have used the pick to upgrade a bench that is still questionable, yes, but any prospect's path to the starting lineup would likely have been blocked. Instead, the Clippers will rely on their core of Gordon and Griffin and their location to make them a desirable destination for free agents in the years to come.
Acquired guard Ishmael Smith and forward Shane Battier from the Houston Rockets in exchange for forward DeMarre Carroll, center Hasheem Thabeet and a first-round pick. [2/24]
This deal achieved two objectives, and I'm not sure which one was more important for the Grizzlies: Bringing back Battier to help paper over the loss of Rudy Gay and make a run at the playoffs; and dumping Thabeet.
Memphis already had plenty of options on the wing, but Battier brings more size than the alternatives, most of whom are more naturally twos rather than threes. His veteran presence also complements the erratic, energetic style of Tony Allen and Sam Young, who have been starting. In the wide-open West, an incremental improvement might be all the Grizzlies need to hold off the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns to reach the postseason for the first time since trading Battier in 2006. With a young team that hardly needs more late-lottery picks, there's no reason for Memphis not to go all out for a playoff berth.
As for the other angle, the Grizzlies' shed Thabeet's guaranteed salary for next year at a relatively low cost in terms of picks. That can only help Memphis with the task of re-signing free agents Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph this summer. The Thabeet era was a disappointment, obviously, but one of the most costly mistakes teams make is refusing to cut bait on their own picks. The Grizzlies willingly admitted their mistake here rather than compounding it.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Acquired guard Nate Robinson and center Kendrick Perkins from the Boston Celtics in exchange for forward Jeff Green, center Nenad Krstic and the L.A. Clippers' 2012 first-round pick. [2/24]
Acquired center Nazr Mohammed from the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for guard Morris Peterson and forward D.J. White. [2/24]
Sam Presti has been biding his time, waiting for the right time to strike. That opportunity came in this trade, as Presti sent out a pair of impending free agents to add Perkins and remake the Oklahoma City frontcourt. When healthy, Perkins gives the Thunder an all-around presence at center the team has lacked since long before it reached the Midwest. In many ways, it's fair to see Perkins as a superior version of Nick Collison, Oklahoma City's backup five in recent seasons. Both players are solid positional defenders who can hold their own in the post and clean up plays on offense. Perkins' advantage is that he's a superior rebounder.
As much as this trade was about Perkins, it was also about who the Thunder dealt away. Green was entrenched as part of Oklahoma City's core because he was the No. 5 overall pick, had started since the team was in Seattle and was one of the first pieces of the Thunder's rebuilding effort, along with Kevin Durant. Green's production, however, never merited such a lofty position. Green is an inefficient scorer and a poor rebounder--even for a small forward--whose three-point shooting deteriorated the last two seasons. Simply, Green wasn't making any progress, and with an extension for Durant already on the books and one for Russell Westbrook on the way, there wasn't room for him financially.
Oklahoma City has a ready-made replacement in the rising Serge Ibaka, who is three years younger than Green but superior in nearly all aspects of the game (exceptions: shooting range and creating shots). Promoting Ibaka over Green would have shaken things up and pitted the two against each other; by dealing Green, the Thunder ensures an easier transition. Ibaka also worked well with Collison off the bench, and pairing him with Perkins in the frontcourt figures to be ideal in all regards save floor spacing.
If there's a concern for Oklahoma City, it is the team's poor three-point shooting. By getting bigger with Perkins and Mohammed (a fine post scorer and rebounder but limited defender who figures to play alongside Collison in the second unit), the Thunder has sacrificed Krstic's midrange game and Green's occasional threes. As a result, this move could ultimately spark another change in the starting lineup, where James Harden is due to supplant Thabo Sefolosha. That change would weaken Oklahoma City's perimeter D, but would allow Harden to step into Green's role as the third scorer and give the Thunder a true long-range threat in the starting five.
If this sounds like a lot of change for a team that stands fourth in the Western Conference, it is. But Oklahoma City had to make this transition toward the younger, more talented Ibaka and Harden at some point, and making this deal allowed the Thunder to do so while also filling a void at center. There's an opening in the Western Conference, where Oklahoma City could potentially get up as high as the third seed if the Lakers stumble down the stretch. The Thunder has beefed up its lineup for this year's playoff run and done so without getting noticeably older and affecting the team's window for contention. Should Oklahoma City be able to re-sign Perkins, this group could be together for a while.
Acquired guard Aaron Brooks from the Houston Rockets in exchange for guard Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. [2/24]
I'm interested to see how this move plays out. Though Dragic saw plenty of action last season backing up Nash, it's not clear that Phoenix has enough minutes available in the short term to justify dealing for Brooks. Could the Suns put Brooks and Nash together in the backcourt, an invitation to opposing shooting guards to abuse them defensively? Is Phoenix eying Brooks as a long-term replacement for Nash, a title Dragic once held before flopping this season?
With the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz dealing lately, the Suns see an opportunity to make a run at a playoff berth. Brooks will help in that task because Dragic had been so bad as to keep Nash from being able to rest recently. Dragic's net plus-minus is preposterously bad--minus 16.1 points per 100 possessions, per BasketballValue.com. Phoenix is a net +6.3 points per 100 possessions with Nash on the floor. If the Suns can merely come close to breaking even when Brooks replaces Nash, they become a dangerous team the rest of the season.
Phoenix will have a decision to make over the summer, when Brooks becomes a restricted free agent. The optimistic perspective is that his terrible walk year and the number of teams set at the point will allow the Suns to re-sign him at a reasonable rate and groom him for Nash's eventual departure. Brooks' stock was overpriced last season, when he won the league's Most Improved Player award, but he's an adequate starting point guard whose quickness and shooting ability make him a fit for the Seven Seconds or Less offense.
If Phoenix ultimately gets a starting point guard out of this deal, it's well worth a non-lottery pick.
Portland Trail Blazers
Acquired forward Gerald Wallace from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for forward Dante Cunningham, centers Sean Marks and Joel Przybilla, New Orleans' 2011 first-round pick, a 2013 first-round pick and cash considerations. [2/24]
Last week, after traveling down to Portland, I wrote about the success the Blazers had enjoyed using smallball in Marcus Camby's absence. Camby is due back soon, but this trade seems to guarantee that we haven't seen the last of smaller, quicker lineups at the Rose Garden. For the time being, Camby is the only true center left on Portland's roster. The Blazers may add a 7-footer to fill the roster spots this trade opened up--and Przybilla could return in a month if he's bought out by the Bobcats--but it's unlikely Portland will find anyone worth regular minutes at this juncture. That means plenty of playing time for Aldridge in the middle.
Wallace adds an intriguing wrinkle to Nate McMillan's options. His rebounding ability makes him a better fit as a smallball four than Nicolas Batum. Wallace has been outspoken in the past about his desire not to play power forward on a full-time basis, but Aldridge's presence means that won't likely be the case with the Blazers. Instead, both players with swap back and forth between multiple positions. For that matter, with Batum's ability to defend point guards and Brandon Roy's ability to serve as a ballhandler (he strictly played the point last night in his return to the lineup after knee surgery), Portland is capable of throwing out some wildly unconventional fivesomes.
The fact is that Wallace is simply much better than the players he's replacing with the Blazers. Przybilla had been moderately effective, but Portland struggled badly with Marks on the floor and Cunningham had quietly been inefficient all year long. Now Portland gets the benefit of Aldridge in the middle with an above-average starter alongside him. Wallace may struggle to defend certain power forwards, but he is also effective as a help defender.
With this move, the Blazers' goals have advanced beyond merely making the playoffs. They're now locked into a battle with the New Orleans Hornets for the fifth seed in the West and hoping to come together quickly enough to make some noise in the postseason. A matchup with Oklahoma City in the first round no longer looks as favorable as it did 24 hours ago, but Portland is talented enough to make things tough on any possible opponent.
Wallace may be more difficult to fit in over the long term. The Blazers' payroll continues to escalate. If they hang on to Andre Miller for next season--and, unless Roy works out really well as a point guard, they have no replacement for him at the moment--they've got more than $73 million committed for 2011-12 without dealing with the Greg Oden situation. Wallace is an upgrade but also a bit of a luxury, and he may become too expensive to afford sooner rather than later.
Acquired forward Marquis Daniels and cash considerations from the Boston Celtics in exchange for a 2017 conditional second-round pick. [2/24]
After trading Carl Landry for Marcus Thornton yesterday, the Kings found themselves in an unusual position--below the NBA's little-known salary floor. Just as the league dictates a maximum salary (which is highly flexible due to exceptions), it also decrees that teams have to spend at least 75 percent of the cap on payroll. Sacramento needed to pick up a player to reach that limit or risk having to distribute the difference to the existing players on the roster. Usually, that would make the Kings a good destination for teams trying to get under the luxury tax. Few teams seemed concerned with avoiding the tax this year, so instead Sacramento saved some money by getting paid off to take on Daniels' contract and clear up a roster spot in Boston. 2017 is the furthest out teams can trade picks, so sending a second-round pick from that year--presumably with considerable protection--is as close to nothing as a team can legally give up in a trade.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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