Friday, April 15, 2011

Tony Allen Killed Our Hopes Of A Title...No, Really

The above video is a sneak preview of part 5 of the awesome season long documentary "The Association" on ESPN, which is their "Hard Knocks" knock off that this season followed my beloved Celtics through thick (Shaq, Big Baby) and thin (Rondo, KG). The video shows our All Star point guard, Rajon Rondo, sharing his thoughts on the "loss" of his best friend, Kendrick Perkins, and is the perfect segue into me finally sharing my thoughts on the now infamous Perkins trade.

I will get to the title of my post later, but first I want to address the deal on its own. It has been about 2 months since the trade went down and 26 games have been played with the new guys. In today's world, analysis of big moves like this are expected instantly, but in a trade like this where the whole team was completely remade on deadline day, I feel it is best to let it marinate like a fine piece of milk steak before you can truly assess the deal. Well, with the first season now complete and the second season about to start, that moist, delicious piece of milk steak is ready to come off the hot plate. So here we go...

This trade sucks. There is no other way to put it. I am done making excuses and rationalizations. After 3 and a half years of smart moves, Danny Ainge decided to go back to being "Trader Danny" (seriously, go back and look at all the trades he has made in his 8 years with the Celtics) and in one fell swoop, completely changed the identity of this team.

On February 23, we were the F U Bad Boys of Boston. The defending Eastern Conference champs. The team whose fully healthy starting 5 had never lost a playoff series. A middle of the road offense with an intimidating defense. We had 4 All Stars and a huge front line that went 5 deep. True, we were old and our 5 deep front line included 3 injury cases (the O'Neals and Perk). Our back court rotation was suspect due to the injuries of Delonte West and Marquis Daniels and the maddening inconsistencies of Nate Robinson and Von Wafer. The long term picture was a little cloudy as well, but at least the team appeared poised to deal with the new CBA as well as any other elite team in the league. But, as I like to say, flags fly forever and on February 23, we knew we were well positioned to smack down the prima donna Heat, teach the upstart Bulls a lesson in championship play and finish it off by showing the Lakers that we had not forgotten about last season.

On February 25 it was all different. Gone was our enforcer (Perk) and 5 foot 7 inches of pure swagger (Nate, who I am glad is gone, but he definitely appeared to provide something off the court for this team). Also removed were fan mascot and Brian Scalabrine replacement, Luke Harangody (you can't underestimate how much Boston loves a good white Irish guy for mop up time) and team mascot and energy guy Semih Erden (you can't underestimate how much I loved making boner jokes with Semih's first name).

In came Jeff Green, a 24 year old forward who is too weak to play power forward and is not assertive or efficient enough to play small forward, and Nenad Kristic, a soft jump shooting center who no longer shoots jump shots and has the worst come over since Homer Simpson (also brought in were waiver pickups Sasha Pavlovic, Troy Murphy and Carlos Arroyo, but they have been about as useful as an asshole right here (points to right elbow)). And just like that we were no longer intimidating. No longer had swagger. No longer had the promise that our starting 5 had never lost a 7 game series.

Best I can tell, this trade happened for 4 reasons, all of which appear to be for shit right now:

1) The Offense: The offense was definitely not a strong point of this Celtics team this year. Overall, they were a middling offensive team and especially had issues when they had to go to the bench. Too often, teams would go on 8-0 or 14-2 runs against the bench earlier in the year, because the bench became the Big Baby show and nobody else would even be able to get an open shot. The times when the offense would click would be at the beginning and end of games when we had our 4 All Stars and either Shaq or Big Baby. Perk coming back from his injury would certainly not help this issue (although it would push Shaq to more time with the bench unit which could have upped its offensive output) so Danny felt an upgrade was in order. Well, the upgrade back fired. Believe it or not, we are now a WORSE offensive team than we were before. Part of it is due to the starters playing worse over the last few weeks and Shaq (the real linchpin of the deal) playing only 5 minutes since the trade, but the other part is that Kristic and Green are not what they had been advertised as. Which brings me to my next reason...

2) The Versatility of Jeff Green: Green was supposed to be the second coming of James Posey. A guy who could spell Pierce and guard the other team's toughest wing player. A guy who could pair up with KG and play as a super long and athletic small ball front line. A guy who could float on the wing and nail down the corner 3 when defenses collapsed on the 4 All Stars. Unfortunately, I think Danny confused "Versatility" with a "Lack of a strong discernible skill". Seriously. Does Jeff Green have any elite skills? Bill Simmons has been pushing a theory for years that it is easier to succeed in the NBA with one truly elite skill (think Bruce Bowen's defense, Eddie House's shooting or James Posey's pre-game hugs) than with average skills in a lot of areas and I think this is the perfect explanation for Jeff Green. At just 24, I think Green is maxed out as a guy who will do a lot of things ok but nothing identifiable (to clarify, a guy like Paul Pierce doesn't have one elite skill that defines him either because he has so many elite skills. You don't have to be a specialist to be valuable, but if you don't have an overall elite profile like Pierce you better figure out one or two specific ways to make your mark).

3) The Future: Danny offered Perk the biggest extension he could under the rules of the cap (4 years, $22 mil) and, as everyone on both sides agreed, he rightfully declined the below market offer. So, did that mean we couldn't offer him a contract in the offseason? Not at all, and it could have been for significantly more than the in season offer. The real question is how much would we have been comfortable spending on him, and in 2 years would a core of Rondo, Perk and aging Pierce be enough to compete? I tend to think that it would not have and that it would have been best to let Perk go. IN THE OFF SEASON. But Trader Danny decided it would be good to get something for Perk that would improve our situation more long term. So he trades for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Who will both be free agents this off season. Like Perk. Huh? How exactly does this address the future? Yes, the Celtics will have the right to match any offer that Jeff Green receives because he is a restricted free agent, but, again, would a core of Rondo, Green and Pierce be competitive in 2 years? Absolutely not. I've already touched on Green's shortcomings and haven't even addressed the fact that he is 100% not a power forward and would thus play the same position as Pierce so it wouldn't be a fit. So, let's say that Danny makes the smart decision and doesn't sign either Green or Kristic to long term deals, how does this improve our future? Why not go with Perk for the remainder of the season and send him on his way with his second championship ring and look to build around Rondo?

4) The Big Shamrock: The thinking went, the Celtics played out of their minds at the beginning of the season with Shaq in the starting lineup (the Celtics Hub shows us that the 4 All Stars + Shaq was the second best lineup in all of basketball). While he was out with an injury at the time of the deal, so was Perk, and Shaq was expected back soon and his offense combined with his ability to at least clog the lane would be plenty for this team. Well the season is now over and Shaq has played exactly 5 minutes since the deal and is as big a question mark going into the post season as John Travolta's sexuality. And even if Shaq were in fine shape, he is not Kendrick Perkins on defense. Chicago and Miami appear to be salivating to get a crack at our interior, prison style. As much fun as the starters seemed to have playing with Shaq earlier in the season, they were all doing so under the assumption that their brother would be back in full health eventually and they would get to put their starting 5 to the test once again. Since the deal, the team has sulked. They are acting like a bunch of babies yes, but we have to face this reality and realize that the Perk deal destroyed their morale, wrongly or rightly. And even a 100% healthy Shaq is not going to change that.
So where does Tony Allen fit into all of this? He's not around to brick layups and wide open jumpers or throw passes to the 15th row seats, so how is he killing our shot at a title?

On July 13, Tony Allen signed with the Memphis Grizzlies even though it was widely expected he would return to Boston. It seemed like an odd move at the time (though the deal I believe was for an extra year than the Celtics were offering) because he was going from being the 7th man for the Eastern Conference champs to being the 7th man for a team that would struggle to make the playoffs in the West.

On July 26, scrambling to fill T.A.'s void and find a capable backup for Pierce and Allen, Danny brought Marquis Daniels back to the team. Marquis was a solid player but injury prone and suffered from some of the same things that Jeff Green suffers from (no truly elite skills). At least he was a steady presence who could provide a little bit of what T.A. could by matching up with elite wing players and providing a little scoring and ball handling.

So what happened next? After a slow start to the season, T.A. exploded with the Grizzlies, alternating between the starting lineup and the bench and completely transforming the team into a defensive force. After a solid and healthy 4 months with the Celtics, Marquis injured his spine in a freak accident and was done for the season. All of a sudden, the already heavily snake bitten Celtics, were without a reliable backup wing player, while their former backup wing was playing like a man possessed down in Elvis country. Then on February 24, Trader Danny decided to address this backup wing issue, even though in the playoffs there is probably only a total of 16 minutes that we will need from a backup 2/3, and rather than make a small deal for a guy like Anthony Parker he traded away our intimidation.

I fully believe that if T.A. stayed in Boston, Marquis would not have been brought back, at the trade deadline we would not be needing a back up for Paul Pierce, and Danny would not have felt the need to trade away Kendrick Perkins. We would have had a defensive force with a passable offense and be prepared to seize Banner 18. What had started as one of the more enjoyable Celtics season in my lifetime has become a giant ball of uncertainty that will probably flame out in the second round.

At least we have the Red Sox...Oh wait.

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