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Why The Heck Did The Celtics Want To Trade Chris Wilcox Instead of Jason Collins?


This question fell between the cracks a little bit for me following the hysteria surrounding the trade deadline, but I still wanted to throw it out there and address it now since it’s intriguing on a variety of levels. Before we dig in though, here’s a quick recap of the situation which faced the Celtics on trade deadline day last Thursday.

The Wizards wanted to get rid of Jordan Crawford and his 1.2 million dollar contract for this season. They also probably wanted to do so in return for some expiring contracts. With Crawford’s value at an all-time low, Danny Ainge happily decided he’d take on the talented guard to help his depleted bench corps.

In order to make the trade work, the salaries needed to match. Leandro Barbosa was an ideal candidate to be included in the deal (as I mentioned last week) since the C’s needed his roster spot anyway and he’s not coming back this year. Barbosa’s salary cap number was only $854,359, so Ainge needed one more player to make the money match.

Unfortunately for Danny and Doc, there was no ideal player on the roster to include with Barbosa. At first, it was rumored Fab Melo would be the player to be sent out, but the C’s probably decided he was still a young asset and didn’t want to give up on him this early just to take a chance on Crawford. Maybe they were posturing to get another helpful player from Washington in the deal for Melo, but the Wizards understandably probably balked at adding anything else.

That left just Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins (both making the league minimum) as the only candidates left to make a deal work for just Crawford. So Danny had a decision to make. Send the 35-year-old defensive stopper or the struggling, injury-plagued Wilcox to Washington?

The answer certainly surprised me, as according to a report from Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald, the C’s decided they were better off keeping Collins and sending out Wilcox in the deal. That’s where things got dicey for Boston.

UPDATE OF NOTE: People have wondered in the comments whether it was the Wizards’ preference that the C’s send Wilcox and not Collins in the deal. I have confirmed that it was Boston’s first choice to deal Wilcox instead of Collins. The Wizards, having a number of players on their front line already in place, had no real preference.

In order for the C’s to complete the deal, they needed to gain Wilcox’s approval. Since he was playing in his second straight season with the C’s on a one-year deal, he qualified for something called “early bird rights.” A veteran earns these rights when he has played two consecutive seasons with the same team. CBA guru Larry Coon outlines exactly early Bird rights are and how players can use them to block a trade:

This is a weaker form of the Larry Bird exception. It also allows teams to exceed the cap to re-sign their own free agents, but with more limited contracts than the Larry Bird exception. To qualify for this exception the player must play for two seasons without clearing waivers or changing teams as a free agent. A team may use the Early Bird exception to re-sign its own free agent for up to 175% of his salary in the previous season2 (not over the maximum salary, of course) or 104.5% of the average salary in the previous season, whichever is greater.


When the player is playing under a one-year contract (excluding any option year) and will have Larry Bird or Early Bird rights at the end of the season. This includes first round draft picks following their fourth (option) season, who accept their team’s qualifying offer for their fifth season. When the player consents to such a trade, his Larry Bird/Early Bird rights are not traded with him, and instead becomes a Non-Bird free agent2.

Due to that last tidbit, a player like Wilcox is given the right to block a trade, since a trade to another team could cost him money in his next contract, as the C’s would be able to sign him to more money than Washington would since both teams will be over the cap.

Wilcox and his agent put their heads together when Danny came calling and decided although it might be awkward, they didn’t want to forfeit this possibility of more cash. With this development (which the C’s probably foresaw as a possibility), Ainge turned to Collins and included him in the deal. As KG would say, “it’s a business” and that works both ways here.

This situation has led to a number of thoughts running through my head:

1) This must have been really awkward for Wilcox and Doc.
Imagine if you are Wilcox in the situation. The team that you have been on for a couple of years now comes to you and says we’d rather dump you than that other 35-year-old on the roster that can barely put the ball in the hoop. Wilcox has to come back and say “no I don’t want go anywhere,” and the C’s have no other recourse than to deal Collins.

This scenario puts Rivers in a bind in that even though he didn’t want Wilcox, he is currently the team’s only NBA-ready big man (sorry Fab) left on the bench. He HAS to go to him more now in games, out of necessity more than anything else. I don’t care what anyone says, but that’s an incredibly awkward and awesome predicament at the same time, especially considering Wilcox responded with a 14-point 8-rebounds performance Friday night.  That brings us to my next point, or question.

2) Why the heck did Doc and Danny want to deal Wilcox instead of Collins in the first place?
For the record, I had this thought before Wilcox blew up the other night, but you guys will have to take my word on that. In any case, I’ll start by playing devil’s advocate and state the potential reasons for keeping Collins. I don’t agree with all of these reasons, but I certainly can understand the case Doc may have made to keep Collins over Wilcox.

First off, Wilcox is incredibly injury prone himself, so having him on the roster makes the C’s front line even more vulnerable if his thumb injury flared up again or if something else happened.

Wilcox has also been incredibly disappointing on the defensive end. He’s never been a plus defender, but he’s looked especially lost out there this season, even more so than last year. His rebounding had also dipped to career lows, making him even less of an asset. We know Rivers thinks defense first and if you are comparing Collins and Wilcox on the defensive end, there’s no contest. Collins wins in a landslide.

Here’s my thing though. For as bad as Wilcox is on the defensive end, Collins is even worse on the offensive end of the floor for the Celtics. He’s averaging a putrid 0.68 points per possession (398th in the NBA) according to mySynergysports.com, and is shooting just 34 percent from the field. He’s turning the ball over a career-high 30.7 percent of his possessions. That’s easily the highest number in the NBA for any player this year.

Doc can talk all he wants about Collins doing the little things on offense. He does set good picks. You can’t argue with those numbers though. Collins is a major liability on the floor offensively on a team that has much more trouble scoring the ball on most nights than playing good team defense.

On the other hand, take Wilcox on the offensive end of the floor. Despite coming back from offseason heart surgery (how soon people forget), and being limited by a thumb injury for the past couple months, Wilcox is shooting a fantastic 70 percent from the field. He ranks 5th(!) in the league, averaging 1.2 points per possession in the limited sample size of 91 field goal attempts.

With the C’s new transition to the spread offense as well, Wilcox should be a better fit now in the team’s offense, rolling hard to the hoop on pick-and-roll with pieces like Crawford, Terry and Williams handling the ball. Wilcox clearly has to work through plenty of issues on the defensive end, but my thinking is that he brings Boston better potential upside in an area they need it (offense) than Collins does on the defensive end of the floor the rest of the way.

There may be more to the story that meets the eye here, as we don’t know whether there is something going on with Wilcox beneath the surface that caused the team to want to choose Collins over him, but the issue is moot now.

As Rivers explained Friday, Wilcox is the guy now and he has to play better. If he can get back to a pre-2012 level of play, the team will be better off for having kept him, even if it wasn’t their first choice. Because would you rather have this?

or this…

  • Phil725

    Ooh, this is my chance to rant and praise Wilcox?! Awesome! First of all, I'd like to point out that you don't have to take my word for it that I've been pro-Wilcox before his latest big game, it's in the comments section of half of the pieces on CelticsHub. His offensive numbers have been well above everyone else on the team all year. He adds an inside presence that no other big on the team adds. He runs the floor extremely well, and as mentioned in the article, he will have a lot of value on offensively dynamic bench lineups going forward.

    Second. Doc is a good coach… that said, he's messed up big time with two players this year. He utterly fubar'd everything Rondo related this year (making him the leader when everyone knows it's KG/PP, giving him ultimate freedom to loaf on defense and through games without any threat of losing minutes/reproach, running the offense through him unequivocally, etc.) And he's gone out of his way to neutralize what Wilcox can do for this team. Wilcox is not a new player in this league, everything he can and can't do is well documented at this point. He's an offense first, up tempo, rim crashing big in the PnR. He can do that one thing well, and the goal should be to minimize everything else he impacts in a negative way. So what does Doc do? Tells him to sub in for KG and anchor the defense from the center spot… huh? No wonder Collins was a better fit for that role. If Doc had been a little adaptable, the team could've been playing some up tempo bench lineups that score 'and' give up more points than the starters with Wilcox (which they started doing with the Terry/LB backcourt anyway,) and the big minutes would be down all around (more rest for KG, less Bass are both good.) Instead, Wilcox has been glued to the bench until he made some kind of 10th year in the league jump into a defensive anchor that was never gonna happen.

    That stubbornness is why he's been glued to the bench, and likely why they wanted to trade him instead of Collins, who fit more into Doc's predetermined plan. I assume Ainge defaulted to Doc on that matter, since end of the bench minutes is more his realm.

    I don't think too much about the mental effects of almost being traded, because I think comparing things we feel to professional athletes is always a bad idea. It's a different world. Wilcox is a veteran, and he seems like a relatively knowledgeable guy. He sees that Collins was playing a bigger role than him, I'm sure he knew his spot on the totem pole. He doesn't want to go to Washington though, let alone give up the potential salary stuff mentioned, so he vetoed. If he uses the team wanting to trade him as motivation, even better.

    It sucks that it cost insurance to open this opportunity, but the team is better with Wilcox getting Collins' minutes, and it has been all year.

    • The Cardinal

      I love Doc, but he is stubborn and hard-headed. That said, I won't assume the veracity of the premise for this story, which falls into the category of "here we go with unsubstantiated yakking again."

      One thing I will say is- going forward, Doc will be an even better coach for essentially being forced by the play of his reserves to adapt his playbook to his players as opposed trying to force his playbook on the players.

      Despite all the caveats about "it was Phoenix, yadda, yadda, yadda," Danny and the scouts are two for two with Williams and Crawford. If White and/or another free agent adapt to the current style the C's are playing anywhere near as well as the first two players, the C's are gonna be a very deep team and are gonna be in "bidness" come the playoffs. The skilled athleticism in the back court and at the wing has the potential to be scary good, and if DJ and hopefully a 6'10" or taller type with some rebounding and shot blocking skills can be added, the front line won't be nearly as vulnerable on the boards to the athletic bigs on other teams.

      • brobb7

        A bit confused by your veracity of the premise comment. What part of the story do you think is unsubstantiated yakking? It's been well reported elsewhere (which I confirmed) that it was the C's first choice to include Wilcox in the deal over Collins. Or are you referring to something else besides that? I wouldn't have written about it if that part wasn't well-documented.

        • The Cardinal

          Cool – I obviously could have made this clearer and I understand why you responded the way you did: My skepticism (which only increased during weeks leading up to the trade deadline) wasn't directed at you or your report (or Mark Murphy), but at the source of the original Mark Murphy/BH report, which was "the premise" I was referring to. The "veracity" statement wasn't meant to cast aspersions on you or your fellow journalist, but was a reaction as to the motivation of the source(s) and whether the info provided is real, manufactured, or some combination thereof.

          Basically, I was wondering out loud whether the source was full of it, but after re-reading my snarky comment, that certainly didn't come through as intended so my bad.

          • brobb7

            Got it. Ya I figured that might have been it, but I couldn't tell (you're a well-respected commenter around here so I should have assumed as such).

            I can tell you though the "source" here from Murphy especially is rock solid though and you can read in-between the lines between some of Doc's comments after the fact on losing Collins that he really didn't want to lose him.

    • Danny

      Agreed 100%

    • Rav

      Having begun following this team in the '07 – '08 season (not a bandwagon fan, I promise!) I initially drank the Doc Rivers Kool-Aid, seeing as he "managed" the "egos" of the team's new additions so well during the 66-win season and consequent championship run.

      I've now realized he's not that great of a coach at all. "Managing egos" – please! Yes, the team had 3 future HOFers, but one was one of the greatest teammates ever (KG), another the consummate – until this summer, in some minds – professional (Ray Allen) and the last someone who'd become much less cocky after multiple losing seasons (including the franchise's worst the preceding year). And, oh yeah: this was the last chance to win a championship for all 3 – not exactly a situation in which one would be predisposed to prioritizing oneself over the team.

      The only ego Doc has had to manage in his time here is that of Rondo, and he's (along with an able sidekick in Danny Ainge) screwed that up. At the very least, he hasn't done an above-average job with that relationship, what with all the leaked news about "team meetings", the discord between Rondo and the Big 3 and finally, handing RR the reins this season only to see him dog it and take over the play-calling (you've all seen Doc gesticulating in annoyance on the sidelines this year – yet, the "master ego-manager" has been unable to take control back).

      Doc only has two things going for him: 1) He's great at drawing up plays out of timeouts (though how much of his success was due to having one of the best shooters, one of the best screeners, one of the best passers and one of the best clutch players in the league these few seasons is open for debate; notice how we've seen a lot fewer of these slick plays since Ray left?), and 2) He coaxed a respectable season out of a ragtag bunch one year in Orlando for which he won Coach of the Year (I'd attribute a lot of that to the fact that he had a bunch of players playing for their next contract). The elite defense is/was all on Thibodeau and his coach on the floor, KG. The offense has never been great despite the personnel. Ubuntu was just a gimmick (one with a short shelf-life too, apparently).

      Sorry for the rant. I'd always been a Doc defender, but your observation was the straw that broke my ignorance's back. Sometimes, people have compared him to Popovich (e.g. "he and Popovich are the two best coaches in the league"). That's truly laughable – he belongs in the Adelman/Carlisle tier (if that).

      • Phil725

        I think you're overstating it a little, but I agree with your overall point that the Carlisle tier is more appropriate than the Pop tier. I think Pop's on a level all by himself, and I don't think anyone's that close. The way he can manage everything around him perfectly, all while always being a step ahead with scheme and strategy is fun to watch. That said, you have to have help from the players. Doc gets helped by KG just like Pop gets helped by Duncan. I'm not sure how Pop would handle someone like Rondo because I can't think of the last star player in San Antonio that was as difficult.

        In defense of Doc though, his greatest quality as a coach is that players want to play for him. It sounds simple, but it's really more than half of the battle. Everyone knows the other team's gonna run the pick and roll, and everyone knows what they have to do to defend it. You still have to want to defend it every time, and that requires a culture established by the coach, the leaders, everyone. That's what's impressed me most about Thibs in Chicago. I was skeptical how guys would respond to him full time, but they play their butts off 48 minutes a night. As long as guys play hard for Doc, he'll be a good coach.

        All that said, I do think this has been his worst year of the KG era, and I don't think it's really that close. I'd say that most of it was a domino effect of him going all in on Rondo, and Rondo's subsequent unwillingness to go all in, but the fact is that the team underachieved for the first half of the year, and playing hard and fitting in new guys (both responsibilities usually placed on the coach,) were the reason why. The Rondo situation resolved itself though, and I'm confident that the team will fight hard until they're eliminated (and I'm sure they would've regardless of what happened with Rondo.) Given the general roulette nature of coaching, we're way better off with Doc than whatever's behind door #2. It's just easier to focus on the bad stuff.

        • Rav

          Good points, but it's Rondo (our star) who doesn't want to play "for" Doc (unless the game's nationally-televised). Obviously, we can't know if another coach could get through, but as it happens we know that Doc can't. The rest of the Big 3 played for Doc, but what I was saying in my comment was that of course, they'd play for Doc/for the good of the team because they have absolutely nothing to gain (and everything to lose) by not doing so.

          I guess Doc may be doing a decent job with the bit-part players (but is he actually? For every moderate success e.g. Big Baby, Brandon Bass last year, there's a Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox who's not put it together consistently.) My point is that when we test if Doc's been good with getting players to buy in, it's only valid if we look at star players who may have been likely to not buy in. In my estimation, the only such player in Doc's tenure here since 07-08 has been Rondo, and I think he's not done the best job there.

  • sexybo

    How do we know the C's wanted to trade him. For all we know Wilcox is the player the Wizards wanted.

    • brobb7

      I have confirmed with sources, that it was the C's preference to include Wilcox in a deal instead of Collins. Otherwise, I wouldn't have written the story. The Wizards didn't care which player they got.

  • Frank A

    I rather have Wilcox over Collins too only because I know at his best(see Friday night in Phoenix ) he helps us so much more than Collins. That being said, what Collins brings consistently could prove more valuable in the playoffs when the games become more half court oriented and slow down dramatically. Hopefully Wilcox can play as tough defensively in the paint in May as Collins would. We need it when KG goes to the bench. Maybe the whole deal has Wilcox ready to prove worthy of remaining on our roster.

  • Art

    With the big man scrap heap looking thin what are the chances that the Wizards buy-out / waive Jason Collins and then resigns with the C's? It has happened before with Gary Payton going to Atlanta and then back to Boston. Collins may not be great, but he's been in "the system" so to speak.

    • Phil725

      Can't happen now. They put in a rule after Cleveland traded Big Z for Jamison, then got Z back a month later after he was bought out. As an aside, remember when everyone thought that trade was gonna give them the title? heh. Anyway, now you have to wait either a year or until the contract would've run out, whichever is sooner. He's not an option for the rest of the year either way though.

  • Morpheus

    He looks fully recovered from heart surgery after that game. Hopefully he continues playing like this from here on out.

  • Phil725

    Your comment must be approved by the site admins before it will appear publicly.

    Do we know why this happens yet? It won't let me post anything above. It happened a while ago, but it's been over a month since I got it. It sucks when it eats big posts, and I don't have many small ones…

  • truth

    comparing to collins to wilcox? what about the fact that we needed BOTH, we are desperate for big man. we were short on big man at the start of season, then sullinger went down, and now ainge trades collins. i agree that collins is not very good, but we are desperate!

    the truth is: the celtics have struggled in the paint ever since ainge made the boneheaded move of trading perkins.

  • frenchlick

    Trading perk killed the chemistry the celtics had going.

  • Portceltic

    Wilcox does tend to break down more frequently than Collins, and seems to disappear if he's not playing above the rim as it were Friday night.

    I think there has been some question marks about his effort and whether he can stay on the floor.

    But it's palpable he meshes well with the speed merchants on the second unit. Suddenly this team plays at extremely fast pace … even running off made free throws. We're more than sneaky athletic, and we needed this kind of pace to compliment those half court sets. Used to be when we were down double digits the game was out of reach, but I don't think any lead is safe when you counter punch with the kind of speed that's been added to the roster.

  • Art

    Something that goes overlooked is that C's ownership was convinced that Perkins was going to leave Boston as a free agent after he turned down what Boston had offered. So trading Perkins for Green ensured they got someone back, and as Heinson has proclaimed Green is envisioned to take Pierce's place on this team going into the future.

    Despite the fact that the C's are still short on big men getting someone of Green's caliber instead of nothing IMO was a pretty good deal even if it has taken over a year and half to see Green's full potential.

  • norm

    Didn’t Wilcox clear waivers last year- losing his early bird eligibility and trade veto power?

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