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/WHY A PLAYER HAS THE RIGHT TO VETO A TRADE
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?