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Ball Don't Lie

Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers really wishes Boston hadn’t traded Kendrick Perkins in 2011

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Doc Rivers and Kendrick Perkins during somewhat happier times (Getty Images)

In 2011, the Boston Celtics pulled off possibly the most shocking trade in a trade deadline month that, after featuring deals involving Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams, was full of shockers. The team dealt burly, defensive-minded center Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for hybrid forward Jeff Green. Perkins was just 12 games into his comeback from an ACL tear that year, sustained during the previous season’s NBA Finals, and was looked on as a missing piece of sorts for a Celtic team that was one win away from grabbing the 2009-10 NBA championship.

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In a trip back to Boston’s TD Center on Wednesday night for a charity event, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers lamented the loss in retrospect. From WEEI’s Green Street:

Rivers acknowledged that the 2011 Kendrick Perkins-Jeff Green trade was a mistake that ultimately hurt Garnett.

“I think so,” reflected Rivers, “because we needed the toughness.

"The one thing we did by losing Perk was we removed Kevin [Garnett]’s protector. I didn’t think it was a coincidence that, after Perk left, that Kevin got into all those little flicks with the other teams. Perk deflected all that.”

Nobody, not even Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, knows more about what happened on the court and in the locker room than Rivers, and we respect that. With that in place, the deal involving Perkins was hardly a death knell for the Celtics.

For one, Perkins has yet to recover from that ACL tear. His mobility has stiffened considerably since his 2009-10 peak, one that saw the center contribute an average Player Efficiency Rating despite specializing in the sort of non-boxscore contributions that are missed by the PER formula. Perkins’ turnovers have shot way up, while his block and rebound percentages have fallen way off in the years since that injury.

Secondly, while the team eventually lost to the Miami Heat in the second round that season, it’s hard to fathom just what sort of impact Perkins would have had against that year’s smallish Heat squad.

Perkins’ replacement, Jermaine O’Neal, offered statistical production that was on Perkins’ level that season (read: not great), but to these eyes at least he was a far superior defender in terms of movement and hedging. Not that it helped against Miami, though, as the Heat rolled in five games. Shaquille O’Neal, brought in to hold down the middle for Boston while Perkins recovered, only played 17 minutes from the 1st of February until the end of the season (including games against the Heat) as he struggled with assorted injuries, including a debilitating calf strain.

Green’s inclusion in the deal was surprising, as he seemed a bit superfluous on a team already featuring Garnett and Paul Pierce. And though Green had played fewer years in the NBA than Perkins, they’re less than two years apart in terms of age – so it wasn’t as if Ainge was pawning off an old star for a younger buck.

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Still, if Ainge anticipated Perkins’ downfall, it was the right move. Thunder GM Sam Presti, in a misstep, almost immediately handed Kendrick a four-year, $36 million contract, thinking he’d locked in his starting center on an eventual champion. After two straight embarrassing playoff performances for Perkins, though, Presti’s refusal to waive Perkins using the amnesty clause (saving money that could have helped the team retain James Harden or Kevin Martin, with a lightened luxury tax bill) has been rightfully called into question.

Ainge hasn’t exactly acquitted himself expertly either, arguably, signing Green to a four-year, $36 million contract that many see as too much for a player that actually specializes in those aforementioned box score stats, but only topped out at an average PER this season for the first time in his five-year career.

Yikes. Everyone mentioned in this column – from players to coaches to executives – are hard workers, good men, and teaming with high basketball IQ, but this appears to be a lose-lose deal for both sides.

Doc Rivers thinks the loss tilts in Boston’s disfavor. Considering how Perk has fallen off, and in spite of what his glare used to bring to Boston’s interior, we take small issue with that.

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