'What Were The Celtics Thinking?' And Other Thoughts On NBA Trades

DENVER CO - FEBRUARY 24: Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics reacts to a call as they face the Denver Nuggets during NBA action at the Pepsi Center on February 24 2011 in Denver Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Celtics 89-75. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Why did the Celtics think trading Kendrick Perkins was a good idea? Plus: Thoughts on Carmelo in New York, Prokhorov's big move, the most depressing trade of the week, and why big markets are good, but not as dominant as you think.

The Boston Celtics shocked the NBA and even their own players when they traded Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City on Thursday, casting off one of their most popular players, giving the Thunder an extra piece that could very well put them in the NBA Finals, and shaking the core of the league more than months of Carmelo Anthony rumors ever could.

And... Yeah, I don't get it either. The Celtics veterans are still pissed off, and I don't blame them. But even so. It was a perfect way to end the craziest week of trades we've seen in years.

To recap... Carmelo Anthony went to the Knicks, Deron Williams went to the Nets, and the Eastern Conference stole two of the NBA's top 10 players in exchange for Devin Harris and Danilo Gallinari. The Suns traded for Aaron Brooks, clearing the path for them to trade Steve Nash this summer. The Blazers traded for Gerald Wallace and didn't trade Marcus Camby, giving them the most terrifying front courts in the entire league.

The Hornets picked up Carl Landry as a third option behind CP3 and David West, making them a lot more intriguing. The Clippers gave Cleveland a top-10 pick to take on Baron Davis' contract, leading a thousand different jokes, and giving the Clippers the money to re-sign their young stars, and possibly add another star in 2012. And the Celtics and Thunder topped it all off by dramatically reshaping two title contenders. As Nate Robinson put it:

Screen_shot_2011-02-24_at_11

Oh, also: the Hawks traded for Kirk Hinrich to help put them over the top come playoff time.

(Yeah, that the's joke.)

Anyway, during a week when so many NBA fans and columnists spent their time worried about the future of the league and all these unsentimental superstars ditching their teams, there was no rebuttal more perfect than the Oklahoma City and Boston trade.

Small market teams can't compete in today's NBA? Meet Oklahoma City, who just added a big man that'll keep them competitive for the next five years, and makes them a title contender immediately. The NBA's being ruined by a bunch selfish millionaires who don't care about their teams, you say? Meet Kendrick Perkins, who spent the afternoon weeping after hearing he had to leave his Celtics teammates. And the NBA is too predictable? The regular season's a waste of time? Well, in a matter of five days, the entire league just got a whole lot more interesting.

With that, here's six thoughts on the trade deadline madness that just transpired.

1. The Knicks Trade Wasn't That Bad. Or, It Was. But It Wasn't. Does That Make Sense?

Carmelo_medium

I was pretty critical of the Carmelo Anthony deal earlier this week, and all that criticism still stands. The Knicks should have taken the chance that Carmelo would sign with them this summer. Because even if that didn't happen, they'd still be flush with cap space and tradeable assets that they could use to chase after guys like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Dwight Howard. In the meantime, they'd still make the playoffs, still entertain fans, and keep moving in the right direction. 

On the other hand, if Carmelo did sign there, then suddenly they've got Carmelo, Landry Fields, Raymond Felton, Gallinari, Amare, and Mozgov, and they're in prime position to use all the assets they gave up for Carmelo to go get one, final superstar. Chris Paul, anyone?

...But that's not how New York played it, and even though they could have gotten more out of what they gave to Denver, it shouldn't diminish what they actually have now. I wrote about Carmelo's value back in August, and it bears repeating this week:

Think of the five players you'd want if your team had one possession to win a game. Kobe, LeBron, Dwyane Wade ... then Carmelo.

He's not getting bodied out to the three point line like Kevin Durant, he's got a faster first step than Paul Pierce, he's got more range than any of the superstar big men and he's proven he can take and make big shots. Carmelo is probably the fourth-best option in the NBA for a game-winning possession. Even if we concede that he's a gunner during the other 47 minutes and incapable of changing, he's a worthy addition to any franchise that plans on playing in big games anytime soon.

In other words, even if Knicks overpaid, they're still getting a player that can be absolutely deadly if he's surrounded by the right pieces. And that counts as a victory, and a step in the right direction. Now they just need to get the rest of the pieces; it won't be easy, but with Carmelo and Amare and New York City looming as attractions for fellow superstars, it won't be as hard as you think.

2. Mikhail Prokhorov Got Lucky, But It's More Fun To Pretend He Planned It All

Prokhorov_medium

Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets struck out on getting Carmelo, but succeeded in forcing the Knicks to give Denver pretty much everyone on their roster that was remotely tradeable. So when the Nets wound up with a better player (Deron Williams) the whole thing looked like a masterstroke from the man we've come to know as The Prokhorov. And that's how I think we should all remember it.

It doesn't matter that Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski told Bomani Jones on his radio show that what happened was, the Nets called about Andrei Kirilenko, Utah said no, and then Utah's Kevin O'Connor said... "Is there anyone else on our roster that might interest you?"

Sure, on the surface, that might sound like blind luck. But it's so much more fun to think of The Prokhorov as the NBA's crazy Russian billionaire, always with a trick up his sleeve. So in the spirit of perpetuating that myth, let's all agree that Prokhorov had this planned all along.

3. Big Stars In Big Markets Is Bad For The League. That Sentence Was Insane, Huh?

So many people have complained about Deron Williams and Carmelo going to New York City, and what those moves did to the Nuggets and Jazz this week--like the Raptors and Cavs before them--that you might be tempted to say the NBA has a problem on its hands. And if you live in Salt Lake City, Denver, Cleveland, Toronto, or New Orleans, then I understand.

But Kenny Smith explained it best on TNT Thursday night. Carmelo Anthony in New York City is great for the league, because the Knicks are a global team. To paraphrase Kenny, "People will see the New York Post in London. They'll see it Salt Lake City. So when New Yorkers and the media there are excited about basketball, that gets people talking about basketball all over the place." And it's totally true. The NBA will likely have to figure out a way to protect smaller market teams from losing stars, but the idea that any of this is actually bad for the league is completely ridiculous.

3b. Having Said That, We Don't Need To Pretend Carmelo Is A Native New Yorker

I spent the first seven years of my life living in West Hartford, Connecticut, but you don't see me reppin' Blue Back Square or Bishop's Corner in interviews. Because I moved to D.C., and that's where I grew up. Just like Carmelo left New York City, and grew up in Baltimore.

All of which is to say, this commercial is cool, but also completely ridiculous.

I'm just sayin', Carmelo wasn't with friends from New York in that stop snitchin' video.

4. The Most Depressing Trade Of The Entire Week

...Hey, Washington and Atlanta! The Wizards gave up Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong to the Hawks for Mike Bibby, Mo Evans, Jordan Crawford and Atlanta's 2011 first-round pick. Why is that so depressing? Well, from Atlanta's perspective, let's put it this way: anytime Kirk Hinrich is supposed to be what puts you over the top, you are not going over the top. Ever.

The good news? Joe Johnson's only signed for another five years and $100,000,000.

As for the Wizards, they've parlayed Hinrich into two mid-first round draft picks, plus Jordan Crawford, who was a late-first rounder in 2010. I guess that's a good thing? If this were the NFL or NHL, it'd be awesome, but in the NBA, once you get past the top of the lottery, the NBA Draft's a total crapshoot, and you're lucky if you can even find a starter.

So the Wizards added Hinrich this past summer, giving Chicago an extra $11 million in cap space to build a team that'll own the Eastern Conference for the next six years, and costing themselves cap space and flexibility during the most active trade season in a decade. It's nice that they could still get some value for Hinrich, but, yeah. Let's not pretend this whole thing was a big success. Don't worry, though, Andray Blatche is signed for another 4-years and $35 million, and he just threatened to fight a fan on Twitter!

(The bright side for Wizards fans: John Wall is still John Wall, and at least we're not the team talking ourselves into Kirk Hinrich as the piece that'll finally take us past the second round of the playoffs.)

5. The Bulls Trade That Never Happened

Watching the Bulls beat Miami Thursday night, it's pretty clear that they've already got a lot of good things going on in Chicago. But it's still a little hard to accept that Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer are key contributors for an NBA title contender. And they were this close to changing all that.

K.C. Johnson reports for the Chicago Tribune:

...according to multiple league sources, the Bulls aggressively pursued Grizzlies shooting guard O.J. Mayo, offering Ronnie Brewer, two first-round picks and one second-round pick.

If you're the Grizzlies, I'm not sure how you could turn that deal down, especially considering how hopeless Mayo's situation is in Memphis right now. Alas, Memphis wouldn't bite, and instead of adding a competent backcourt sidekick for Derrick Rose and officially becoming the scariest team in the East, the Bulls will have to settle for merely being an incredibly scary team for the rest of contenders in the East.

And maybe it's for the best. Since the Wizards are so terrible this year, I'm adopting the Bulls for the stretch run and the playoffs, and it'll be more fun to root for them as an underdog. Because really, Kyle Korver was guarding LeBron James at one point last night. No team that puts Kyle Korver on LeBron, ever, should be a title contender. And yet, here we are.

6. Finally, 'What Were The Celtics Thinking'?

Kendrickperkins_medium

On paper, it makes sense for both sides. Boston needed another perimeter player to help Paul Pierce guard LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, and Oklahoma City needed another body inside to help guard Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Completely logical for both sides.

But now we look at both sides after the trade, and it just looks so one-sided.

The Celtics got the perimeter help they needed (Jeff Green), but in the process, they had to sacrifice what made them special in the first place. Suddenly, everything we liked about the Celtics as playoff team (size, defense, rebounding, toughness) is all a question mark.

The Thunder, meanwhile, were able to address their biggest weakness without changing what makes them great. All of their keys pieces--Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden--are still in OKC. Instead of giving away any of those guys, they were able to give up a guy that never totally fit, and get back a player that excels in every area where their team has struggled for the past two years. It's a home run from every angle.

Overnight, the Thunder become a serious threat to steal the West come playoff time. And it's a lesson to teams like Denver and Cleveland, who couldn't keep their superstars. OKC's needed a player like Perkins for the past two years, but rather than panic and try to please Kevin Durant by overpaying for Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler, Sam Presti waited, and got exactly what they needed. It's what Cleveland didn't do for LeBron, what Denver never did for Carmelo, what Utah never did for Deron Williams. That's how you keep a superstar in town.

And for Boston, in a weird way, it acknowledges the same NBA reality that Utah had to face with Williams. Boston wasn't going to be able to keep Perkins when his contract was up, they needed another wing player, and trading Perkins gives them a whole lot more flexibility in 2012, when only Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo will be under contract. So they made a move while Perkins' value was high, and are rolling the dice that A) The Celtics can win this year without him and B) They can use Perkins' money in 2012 to get somebody that helps them even more.

Utah and Boston were both looking a few years ahead with their deals. The difference, of course, is this year. Utah had no shot with or without Deron Williams. But Boston just dramatically changed the DNA of a team that currently has the best record in the East. It's a calculated risk from Danny Ainge, and one that we won't really be able to judge until 2012, when the Celtics begin to take shape without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. And maybe it'll be worth it, and Dwight Howard will sign with Boston in 2012, and everyone will forget all about Kendrick Perkins.

But why swing for the fences for the long term when you're on third base in the short term? The Celtics were this close to a title last year, and in 2011, the team's been even better, while the Lakers have looked worse, and the Heat have looked incomplete.

It was a seriously risky trade for a team that didn't need to be desperate. But it's too early to write Boston's obituary, so I'll stop there. Besides, that's not even the best story here. What's best about the NBA Trade Deadline is that it proves we still have no idea what to expect.

For Celtics fans, that truth probably stings a little bit today. But for the rest of us, the East just got more interesting, and the Thunder--the polar opposite of Miami, superteams, and everything everyone hates about the "new" NBA--look closer than ever to realizing their potential. And just as everyone slowly accepted that "Big Markets" own the NBA now...

Boston just risked a title to try and win with Dwight Howard in two years, becoming a pawn to in the superstar sweepstakes just like everyone else. Meanwhile, the best young team in the league is slowly being built in a small midwest market, and looking bigger and better than ever. And we have what will happen next with all this. But isn't it awesome watching it all unfold?

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