Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Perkins for Jeff Green: Boston's folly

In one of the most surprising trades of the past year, Boston traded Perkins for Oklahoma's Green. Since a few games have been played since the trade, one can look at some of the results, which have been troublesome for the Celtics. Since they've been a contender for a few years now, trading one of their starters caused an uproar among the Boston fans, and I'm sorry to say I can't find a reason why they should be satisfied with the trade, unless Perkins' knee explodes into Nate Robinson sized pieces within a couple years.

There are a few defenses of the trade, most of which make no sense:

1) Boston wants to get younger

... by trading a 26 year-old center for a 24 year-old forward and 27 year-old. Huh? Now they're reliant on an O'Neal center combination, having sent their rookie Turkish center in a separate deal, with a combined age of 71 years. While it's true Perkins has had injury problems, big defensive centers and power forwards retain their value for a long time, even when they lose much of their speed and quickness. If they wanted to get younger, maybe they should have traded one of their players struggling with baldness and bladder control.

2) They filled a hole.

So which hole did they fill? Most argued Pierce needed a quality backup and a way to defend tough wings in the playoffs like Lebron, and Jeff Green was a great solution. However, they traded their starting center for a backup in a role that doesn't really suit him. Green has only been playing around 20 minutes a game. If they wanted a big wing off the bench who could relieve pressure off of Pierce and defend some of the best players in the world, why didn't they try to get Tony Allen back? Shane Battier? Brewer? Gerald Wallace? All these players were clearly available.

3) They can play small with Green as a floor spacing 4.

This argument would have merit if Green were actually a good outside shooter, but nothing in his history suggests that he is. His three-point percentage has hovered around 33%, and this season is the first he's eclipsed 40% on long two-pointers. If only they could get a true power forward who could hit long jumpers at rate in the mid-forties, defend vigorously, rebound and use the word cancer in an insult with a player with alopecia.

3) It's for the future.

This is the most perplexing. Perkins is only two years older than Green. But most importantly, the trade has created a gaping problem at the center spot not only for the playoff run, but for the future. Looking beyond their aging stars, Boston's frontcourt looks like Glen Davis, a 6'8" forward who can't rebound, Jeff Green, a tweener forward who also can't rebound, Krstic, a poor defender who also can't rebound and ... well, it's not clear. Do they really think Green is the future of the Celtics? He's a poor shooter and decent defensively, but doesn't give you much else besides consistency ... he's consistently middling. Even if he turns a corner, they have a huge need at a position notoriously hard to fill.

4) They need to win now.

I'm not sure how Green and Kristic actually help Boston. Perkins was an excellent defender, crashed the boards, and protected the rim. They lose that and gain Kristic, who will drag their defense down, and Green, whose impact is not exactly as positive as people believe. He'll shoot a decent number of shots with poor to average accuracy, he won't rebound, and his defense is good but not at Perkins' level. His adjusted plus or minus numbers are devastatingly bad: -5.27 with a standard error of 2.73, which means it's statistically unlikely he has a positive impact on the team. If you're the type adverse to statistics in basketball, consider this: what's the value of a tweener forward who's too small for the 4-spot, can't rebound or block shots, doesn't hit three-pointers, and isn't a defensive stopper? He's definitely not the antidote to Lebron James. In fact, in defending both James and Wade, one would think a shot-blocker would help, but now they've lost that. Also, if they want to win now, shouldn't they be thinking about how best to match-up with the Lakers, the team to beat? What about Orlando? Green doesn't even help them against Chicago, who boasts a huge frontline and no match-ups in need of a player like him.

Looking further into the stats, Boston, despite trading a player who has been injured most of the year, has been the loser in the trade so far at 12 and 8 with Green, but in the twelve games Perkins played they were only 8 and 4. Looking at point differential, the numbers below show that Boston has played better with Perkins and worse with Green, albeit in limited minutes, while Oklahoma has also played better with Perkins and worse with Green. Some of this may a result of Boston struggling in ways unrelated to these players, but Perkins played with Boston only in 12 games right before he was traded, meaning his numbers aren't a result of playing with the Celtics during their hot streak at the start of the season. Also, Boston's point differential with Green includes a 31 murder spree against the Bucks (without that game, the differential drops to 1.8.) However, one most note that the sample size is small, but the results are interesting and warrant close future scrutiny. It's too early to tell what the effects are of having Green, Perkins or Kristic on their respective teams, but so far most measures including player plus/minus have suggested Oklahoma fleeced the Celtics.

Boston with Perkins:      +5.3
Oklahoma with Perkins: +8.0
Boston with Green:        +3.3
Oklahoma with Green:    +3.2

The Celtics have suffered since the trade, but some of this has been overblown. They've been without Perkins for most of the season, and he's only played 11 games for the Thunder. Boston has remained an elite defensive team without him, but their offense has struggled. I'm not sure that blame can be placed on the loss of Perkins. Their offensive rebounding has been terrible, but it was also terrible last year. The rebounding is partly the result of their defensive strategy: instead of crashing the offensive boards, send guys back to snuff out transition plays. However, it is alarming that they traded a defensive big for two players in Kristic and Green who were supposed to be good offensive players, and their offense has not kicked out of the neutral position. Additionally, one cannot forget the pouting variable: Rondo, among others, was strongly against the trade and some argue much of their recent slide is a result of this collective funk, but they weren't playing much better in the games before the trade.

In looking toward the future, I believe the trade will become a sort of crossroads for the Celtics, a divergence among all the infinite possibilities that could have been. The Celtics lost a defensive stalwart and replaced him with a back-up center (Kristic) and a forward who has little evidence of being a meaningful basketball player (Green). Perkins was an absolute steal for Oklahoma, filling a real hole and rounding out their line-up, with one positive side-effect being an increase in playing time for Ibaka, who has been promoted to the starting line-up. Maybe Perkins knee problems will render Oklahoma's talent advantage moot, but the risk is acceptable because it appears Green wasn't contributing.

In sum, Boston traded one of its youngest players and best defenders in order to get younger and provide more defense, and with their championship window shrinking they have to rely on a 39 year-old, often injured center never known for his conditioning. Boston's future is relying on the assumption Jeff Green will provide valuable contributions, but the evidence is scarce that he can do so. If Ubuntu can't save the Celtics with Green, they may need to use Haitian voodoo to revive the corpse of Shaquille O'Neal. An undead hall of fame center is certainly part of a good long-term plan.