Bill Simmons analyzed the league's trading deadline moves and for once in a long time, he was impressed by a majority of teams' aggressiveness. I think he's right, but I think it is equally important that teams by and large made the right moves for the right reasons for the right pieces. Perhaps GM's are learning from past mistakes.
Of course Simmons commented extensively on the deal that seems to have rocked the NBA landscape, which essentially was a swap between Kendrick Perkins and Jeff Green. They weren't the biggest names on the market (Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams), but they may play the most prominent role in each respective team's playoff hopes.
OKLAHOMA CITY: B-plus
I'm proud of my man Sam Presti: He stared at the Western landscape, stared at it some more, stared at it some more … and then it dawned on him. We could make the Finals if we got some size and scoring off the bench. So he flipped some assets (Jeff Green and the rights to a future Clippers first-round pick) and ended up with a playoff-proven center (Kendrick Perkins) and a streaky bench scorer (Nate Robinson, who absolutely murdered the Celtics this season, but whatever). Flipping Green for Perkins helped the Zombies in two ways: Now James Harden can play (they need to find out whether he's good once and for all), and everyone falls into his natural position now. A front line of Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant and Green always felt undersized, especially on those nights when a physical low-post player like Zach Randolph was ripping them to shreds. No more. Ibaka, Durant and Perkins? Yikes.
The trade helped the Zombies so much that one Boston friend wondered whether the Celtics made it partly to screw the Lakers: By giving them Perkins, the Celtics increased the chances that Oklahoma City could get past a team that it nearly toppled this past April. Obviously that's ridiculous, but it tells you how highly Boston fans thought of Perkins (we'll get to that) and how much we trusted him in a big series. You could go to war with Kendrick Perkins … and the Zombies didn't have enough soldiers. They're a better team today.
A few comments:
- I understand Simmons' assessment of Presti's thought process, but I don't think he gives Mr. Presti enough credit. The Thunder front office played this situation perfectly. The Presti formula is no secret by now, but it isn't replicated because few franchises have the patience or confidence to believe that it can work. What it requires is the patience to watch the landscape's chess pieces move into the right position so the GM can make his move. I think that Presti had resigned himself previously to the fact that the Thunder were not a "this is our year!" team, and was perfectly fine with that. However, when he saw an asset emerge that was precisely what his team needed, he went for it without hesitation.
- I don't know what role Nate Robinson is going to play on this team. He is an undersized scoring guard who can really charge a team when it is in a funk, and that is a rare talent. However, if Robinson is going to get any quality minutes, they are going to come at the expense of James Harden, Eric Maynor, and Daequan Cook. At this point, unless Robinson proved to be a better 3-point shooter than Cook, I'd consider that reshuffling of minutes detrimental.
- Simmons wants to see if James Harden can play. I think we all know that he can, if we recall he was probably the best player on the court for a long stretch in the Thunder's loss to the Spurs. What holds Harden back is more of a chemistry issue than a talent issue. Like all the Thunder, he's a dedicated teammate who doesn't want to step on toes. What we saw in the Spurs game though was, in the midst of the team fading, young James finally said, "I got to step up and get this done," and he did. Big Game James? No, I won't steal that nickname. But I think it. Often.
- One thing that has not been mentioned yet is the impact that Perkins will have on the Thunder from a psyche standpoint. Perkins is leaving the best defensive team in the league, having learned the art at the feet of Kevin Garnett. That knowledge base will hopefully carry over so the Thunder understand better what it means to play defense with focus and intensity.
This team [Celtics] is better positioned to make the Finals now. On paper. On paper.
And there's the rub. We don't play basketball on paper. I cared about this particular Celtics team more than any Celtics squad since Reggie Lewis was alive -- and that includes the 2008 title team -- mainly because the players enjoyed one another so much. I wasn't surprised to hear that Perkins cried for most of the day Thursday, that Boston's veterans were infuriated by the trade, that Rondo (Perk's best friend) was practically catatonic heading into Thursday night's game in Denver. These guys loved one another.
It is impossible to say what kind of impact the trade will have on each team's psyche. To use a crude analogy, when dog owners are forced to give up their pet because of exigent circumstances, sometimes neither party truly recovers. The one part became so much of the other that the fact that it is now missing sometimes feels like a hole too deep to ever be re-filled.
I know that these guys are professionals and have to some extent gotten used to seeing players come and go. If you look at the players' reactions though, I ask, when have we ever seen something so emotional on both sides of a trade?
More than missed shots at the buzzer or beatdowns at the hands of the league's best, this is the moment that will help each team decide what it is going to be.