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Difficult to judge

Verdicts on deals need future consideration

Kevin Garnett (above) and the Celtics lost to the Nuggets hours after learning of the trade of Kendrick Perkins. Kevin Garnett (above) and the Celtics lost to the Nuggets hours after learning of the trade of Kendrick Perkins. (Doug Pensinger/ Getty Images)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 26, 2011

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LOS ANGELES — The popularity of a trade and the success of a trade have nothing to do with each other.

Back in 1983, Norm Nixon couldn’t have been more popular in Los Angeles. He had won two titles with the Lakers, and owner Jerry Buss said that if he could offer Nixon a lifetime contract he would.

Then, he traded Nixon to the Clippers for a backup center with knee issues and the rights to a rookie guard. At the time, no one knew Byron Scott would become a key piece of the Showtime Lakers that won three more titles while he was there. Losing Nixon seemed like losing a lot, even though at 28 he was battling tendinitis in both knees.

Explaining the logic behind the deal, Lakers coach Pat Riley sounded much like Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge did Thursday after sending Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City along with Nate Robinson for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, effectively breaking up the group that brought the franchise its first title in 22 years.

“We know there is a big risk involved here,’’ Riley told the Los Angeles Times at the time. “We’re the ones taking the risk. We’re also the ones trying to win a championship. So we’re going out on the limb.’’

After word of Thursday’s trade spread, it was hard to find a ringing endorsement in the Celtics’ locker room. It was a decision that Ainge and coach Doc Rivers grappled with, and one the players struggled to wrap their heads around.

“You just hope that Danny and Doc know what they’re doing,’’ Paul Pierce said. “We put our trust in them. We can’t use any excuses or cry over spilled milk. So hopefully the guys we have coming in understand what we’re trying to do around here. It’s still championship goals.

“But it’s definitely a blow when you lose a guy like Perk. He’s been in playoff battles, been tested. Gives us size and defense, especially when you’re going against guys like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, if we make it to the Finals and play the Lakers. So hopefully we can make it up in other ways.’’

In 1989, the Pistons traded leading scorer Adrian Dantley and a first-round pick at the deadline for the Mavericks’ Mark Aguirre, a major alteration to a team that went to the Finals in 1988. The fact that Aguirre was considered disgruntled in his last days in Dallas didn’t do anything to ease skepticism. But Aguirre was a model citizen in Detroit, and the Pistons won titles in 1989 and ’90. Dantley never got a ring.

There are many examples. The Celtics shipped former Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell out in 1985 for Bill Walton, who helped the Celtics win the title in 1986. The Lakers seemed to get the bad end of the deal when they sent Shaquille O’Neal to Miami and watched him win a title with Dwyane Wade, but in return they got a package of players that included Lamar Odom, who’s helped them win the last two titles.

No one was prepared to answer whether Thursday’s trade was beneficial. At 24, Green is young and viable, with the ability to shoot and defend. Krstic can spread the floor at the center position. Most of the players seemed to trust management’s decision, even though it shook up the team’s core.

“I think, with the guys we got, Jeff Green is young and he can play,’’ said Ray Allen. “He’ll help our bench production out. It seems like he got lost in the shuffle down in Oklahoma City. But he’s got tremendous upside and Krstic gives us length, so I look forward to having both of them.’’

But Rivers had often repeated the fact that the starting five with Perkins never lost a playoff series, implying that last year’s Finals loss to the Lakers might have gone differently had Perkins not torn his ACL in Game 6.

Now, they’ll never know.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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