The last time Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge and his Oklahoma City counterpart, Sam Presti, broke bread was on the night of the 2007 draft. It ended up with Ray Allen (and a draft pick that turned out to be Glen Davis) coming to Boston, which in turn convinced Kevin Garnett to come to Boston, which in turn ... well, you already know that story.
That trade was a bit of a stunner. Thursday's trade is comparatively seismic in that none of the great unwashed saw it coming. Kendrick Perkins, who worked so hard to get back on the floor this season following a devastating knee injury, is now headed to the Thunder along with Nate Robinson. Coming to Boston is the promising Jeff Green, for whom the Celtics drafted for the then-Seattle Sonics in 2007, and 7-foot center Nenad Krstic.
Guess Doc Rivers is going to have to retire the line "this starting five has never lost a playoff series while healthy."
There also were a couple more deals in which the Celtics shed Semih Erden, Luke Harangody for a 2013 second-round draft pick from Cleveland (via Minnesota) and gave up Marquis Daniels, plus cash considerations, for a protected second-round pick in the 2017 draft from Sacramento. That left the Celtics with a skeleton roster of eight for Thursday night's game in Denver and three openings (Chris Johnson's 10-day contract notwithstanding) on a potential 15-man roster. (Didn't Ainge just say he liked his team?)
So be prepared for a number of names to crop up in the upcoming week when teams start buying out players they don't want. You'll hear names such as Troy Murphy, Jason Kapono, Morris Peterson and possibly even Samuel Dalembert.
But that's another story for another day. Examining the Celtics-Thunder trade on its merits, I think Ainge has once again come out on top. (There's also a first-rounder in there, as well -- a 2012 Clippers pick.)
Let's begin with the article of faith that the team that gets the best player usually makes out the best in the trade. Green is the best player among the four. I can't imagine any general manager, including Presti, disputing that. Green is 24 years old. He was averaging 15.2 points a game, third on the Thunder behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He started all 49 games he played, averaging 37 minutes per contest.
He's 6-foot-9 -- a long 6-foot-9, which means he easily fills the role as a backup to Paul Pierce. He has 3-point range. He can play the power forward spot, as well, in a smallish lineup. There are reports that he may have fallen out of favor a bit in Oklahoma City, but there was some concern as to whether the Thunder were going to be able to re-sign him, having already committed big-time to Durant and with Westbrook coming up next.
The Celtics didn't just want an Average Joe to bring in behind Pierce. They got a guy who not only can play but, assuming that he stays in Boston, will be a big part of the Celtics team that emerges when the current Big Three heads into the sunset.
But to get a player like Green, as opposed to, say, Anthony Parker, they had to give up Perkins. We all know what Perkins brings to the table. He's a great role player, a standout defensive presence in the post (and attuned to the maniacal ways of Garnett) and he's a good rebounder and decent shot-blocker.
But to listen to some my colleagues on Thursday afternoon, you'd have thought the Celtics had traded away Bill Russell. ESPN's Jalen Rose flatly declared the Celtics will not get out of the East after this deal. (There was no guarantee they would, had they done nothing.) Ric Bucher and Chris Broussard were baffled that the Celtics would give up such a key player as Perkins.
But what about what Krstic brings to the table? Or the fact that the Celtics were 33-10 this season without Perkins and only 4-3 with him as a starter? Or that the Celtics, like the Thunder with Green, faced the possibility of not being able to re-sign Perkins?
(The Celtics had offered Perkins the maximum possible extension under the current CBA, which turned out to be a little more than he already makes. Perk, rightly thinking he might make more on the open market, said no thanks.)
Krstic is not the same kind of player as Perkins, but he is a legitimate 7-footer who has six-plus years of NBA experience and knows how to play. He started all 47 games in which he appeared, with Oklahoma City going 30-17. His rebounding and shot-blocking numbers are anemic for his size, but he is an exponential upgrade offensively over Perkins. When Krstic is on the floor, his defensive guy will have to guard him. It won't be four-on-five (or even three-on-five because no one guards Rajon Rondo, either.) Rivers can leave him on the floor at the end of games because of that. Perkins rarely finished games; Big Baby is usually the one at the end.
Krstic has decent range. He can make free throws. He will be reunited with Lawrence Frank, who coached him in New Jersey when he was at his best (and who just might be the next coach of the Celtics if Rivers steps aside.) He's only 27 and, like Perkins, has bounced back from an ACL tear. Also like Perkins, Krstic's contract is up at the end of this season. So there could be some pressure on the Celtics to re-sign him.
We also have to assume that, by making this trade, Ainge is convinced that he is going to get something from the O'Neals. Shaquille O'Neal is not that far away. Jermaine O'Neal? Who knows? We also have to assume that the Celtics are, as of now, comfortable with Delonte West's situation as the backup to Rondo. Rivers never really warmed to Robinson, anyway.
Yes, it was a shocker. No, no one saw it coming. Yes, undoubtedly, more is yet to come.
But if everyone can step back and examine Perkins and his game unemotionally (admittedly, that's hard, given all that he did to come back), this is a good deal for the Celtics. They got a 7-footer in return. And they got the better player in the deal.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.