On a day of salary dumps and semi-salary dumps, the Celtics and Knicks made an actual basketball trade. The Celtics wanted Nate Robinson for his basketball ability, and the Knicks wanted to get rid of Nate Robinson because their coach doesn’t like the way he plays basketball.
If I’m doing my math right, the Knicks save a small amount of money in this deal. They’re sending out $4.62 million in salary and bringing in $4.46 million. That’s something for a team paying the luxury tax, but it’s obviously not what motivated New York to make the deal.
The C’s, to their credit, are spending a bit to (in Danny Ainge’s view) improve the team. In addition to the nearly $200,000 mentioned above, the C’s will be on the hook for a $1 million bonus Robinson will receive if his team makes the playoffs.
The deal doesn’t help the Knicks in their quest to free up cap space this summer; Robinson’s deal expires after this season, and the Knicks would have renounced his rights.
So: This deal, as strange as it sounds, was about basketball and basketball only.
In the end, the Celtics did what most of us thought they would do all along: They used their expiring contracts to tweak around the edges of their team isn’t of shaking up its foundation. There was really only one way to shake up that foundation: trading Ray Allen and his expiring $19 million contract. We really have no evidence to suggest the Celtics pushed hard to do that. We have reports from all over the league that they inquired about a half-dozen expensive guys whose teams might have been tempted to unload their contracts—Kevin Martin, Andre Iguodala, Amare Stoudemire, even Carlos Boozer.
And they should have inquired. It’s the responsibility of the front office to explore any means of improving the team. In the end, though, it appears the Celtics lacked the assets necessary to deal Allen and achieve Ainge’s stated goal of improving the team’s future without compromising its present. The combination of Allen and a bunch of fringe player expiring deals just wasn’t enough. The Kings turned Kevin Martin (and his hefty deal) into Carl Landry; Phoenix waffled even when the Cavs reportedly offered J.J. Hickson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas for Stoudemire; some reports suggested the Jazz wanted Michael Beasley in any deal with Miami for Carlos Boozer.
It’s easy to sit at your laptop and say Boston should have done more—that the team should have been able to concoct some MIT-level three-team deal that would have brought back a game-changing young(er) star for Ray Allen. The Rockets/Kings/Knicks and Clippers/Cavs/Wizards, after all, proved again that such deals could be arranged if you could find one team looking solely to save money/free up cap space.
There were calls, for instance, for the C’s to make a pitch to Phoenix for Amare Stoudemire and Jason Richardson. You want to kill a few hours? Hit up the trade machine and try to make that trade work in a way that makes any sense for Phoenix. It’s very hard, whether you try with two, three or four teams. Would you do this deal? Would Phoenix do this one?
If Ainge could have found an Allen deal he liked, he would have made it.
Even the Rockets had to take on Jared Jeffries and his $6.8 million salary next season to swing their deal for Kevin Martin and every New York draft pick through 2020. The Celtics may not have been willing to take on that kind of financial commitment beyond this season. If they were, they could have pursued Kirk Hinrich or John Salmons, veteran guys Chicago was clearly willing to give away for nothing more than expiring deals.
In the end, then, we have Nate Robinson instead of Eddie House. The Celtics don’t get Nate Robinson’s Bird rights, meaning the team will not be able to go over the cap to sign him beyond this season. So this deal is about making this team better right now–-about turning a team that’s 10-13 in its last 23 games back into the team that started 23-5.
Is it enough?