OKLAHOMA CITY — The Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t content with just being top-tier playoff contenders, swapping starters in a surprising deadline deal.
The Celtics sent center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City and acquired forward Jeff Green and center Nenad Krstic on Thursday, causing a shuffle in the frontcourt for the Thunder.
“I’m just as surprised as everyone else was,” said LeBron James, whose Miami Heat started the day tied with Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics also dealt reserve Nate Robinson to the Thunder and received a 2012 first-round draft pick, and cash, in the deal that was approved by the NBA about five hours after the trade deadline. The draft pick was previously owned by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Perkins recently returned from a knee injury he sustained in Game 6 of the NBA finals. Once loaded with interior size, the Celtics will now have to hope Shaquille O’Neal or Jermaine O’Neal get healthy in time for the playoffs.
“They’re always looking toward the future,” said Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a Boston assistant until last season. “Perkins did a lot for that team. He’s a very valuable player, he’s a great defensive player, and they got good players back for him. So I think it was a good trade for both teams.”
The Thunder parted with Green, their third-leading scorer who frequently played out of position at the power forward spot, and the 7-foot Krstic for the chance to get the key interior defender they had been lacking. General manager Danny Ainge called him an “integral” part of Boston’s championship run three seasons ago.
Perkins could team with second-year pro Serge Ibaka in a revamped frontcourt to go along with high-scoring All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City sits fourth in the West, and general manager Sam Presti said it is “never easy to make decisionsn such as these.”
“We had a unique opportunity to add a proven presence in our front court in acquiring Kendrick,” Presti said. “He will help anchor our defense while Nate will add depth and athleticism to our backcourt.”
The versatile Green can be a backup at multiple positions and fill the void Boston created by trading away injured swingman Marquis Daniels to Sacramento.
Green’s production dropped off after he missed seven games early this season with a sprained left ankle, but he was starting to break out of it recently. He had been averaging just 13.7 points over a 29-game span, but surpassed 20 points in four of his last 10 games leading up to the trade deadline.
“That’s ironic that now we’re a team of continuity and consistency,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, as Miami was the only one of the top six East teams without some tinkering around the trade deadline.
The inclusion of Krstic, the Thunder’s starting center since they brought him back to the NBA from Russia in December 2008, should help offset Boston’s loss of Perkins. Krstic had been out of the league after suffering a knee injury with New Jersey.
“He’s really appreciative of the opportunity Oklahoma City gave him. They really gave him a second chance coming out of Russia into the NBA,” Krstic’s agent, Marc Cornstein, said. “He’s excited about going to Boston and to hopefully bring them a title.”
In a separate deal, Boston got a second-round draft pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers for reserves Luke Harangody and Semih Erden.
Oklahoma City also added frontcourt depth by acquiring backup center Nazr Mohammed from Charlotte in exchange for seldom-used forward D.J. White and veteran guard Morris Peterson, who had played in only four games this season.
“Tough day for me and my teammates … good luck to jeff green, nenad krstic, (Peterson) and Dj white,” Durant posted on his Twitter account. “we will miss u guys 4 sure.”
The Thunder had been looking for an upgrade to their interior defense and Perkins, 26, could provide it while fitting in with a youthful roster. His contract expires at the end of the season, but Oklahoma City faced the prospect of losing Green and Krstic then anyway.
Green will be a restricted free agent and didn’t agree to an extension last summer, when Durant signed a long-term deal. Westbrook’s contract also comes up this summer, leaving Oklahoma City with some difficult financial decisions to make.
Green had been a part of Oklahoma City’s core, coming over in a 2007 draft day trade that sent Ray Allen to Boston and set the stage for the Celtics’ championship run. The Thunder, then in Seattle, also picked Durant at No. 2 the same day.
In another NBA trade, the Charlotte Bobcats dealt the face of their young franchise, Gerald Wallace, to the Portland Trail Blazers for a package that includes two first-round picks as owner Michael Jordan cuts payroll and eyes the future.
In a deal completed seven minutes before the trade deadline, the Bobcats agreed to part ways with the last original member of the 7-year-old franchise. The Bobcats acquired a conditional 2011 first-round pick Portland obtained from New Orleans and a conditional 2013 first-rounder from the Trail Blazers.
Also heading to Charlotte are center Joel Przybilla, reserve forward Dante Cunningham and center Sean Marks, who are in the last year of their contracts, and cash.
“Needless to say, this was a difficult decision for our organization,” Jordan said in a letter posted on the team’s website. “Gerald epitomized everything we want our team to be about and we cannot thank him enough for his contributions to the Charlotte Bobcats. As the trade deadline approached, we were presented with an opportunity that we felt was in the long term best interest of the team.
“The two first round draft picks we received will be part of the foundation that the future of this team will be built upon.”
The Bobcats also sent backup center Nazr Mohammed to Oklahoma City for reserve forward D.J. White and the expiring contract of guard Morris Peterson. Forwards Dominic McGuire and Derrick Brown and guard Sherron Collins will be waived to make room on Charlotte’s roster.
A person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Thursday night that Marks and Peterson likely won’t play for the Bobcats and will eventually be released. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the moves were not official.
The 6-foot-7 Wallace, averaging 15.6 points and 8.2 rebounds, was taken in the 2004 expansion draft. He developed from a benchwarmer in Sacramento to an All-Star last season.
Bobcats coach Paul Silas said Wallace took the news hard.
“He wasn’t very happy, kind of sad about it,” Silas said. “He was doing everything for me. … It’s not a joyous day losing him.”
While the Bobcats (25-32) shed the $21 million due to the 28-year-old Wallace over the next two years, they’ll likely face a difficult task staying in playoff contention without him. They sit 1½ games behind eighth-place Indiana in the Eastern Conference.
“We also were able to secure players that we believe will continue to help us remain competitive as we strive to reach the playoffs this year,” Jordan said. “At the same time, the contracts we acquired will afford us the flexibility to be aggressive during the offseason.”
The move gives Portland another athletic scorer, rebounder and shot blocker just as Brandon Roy returned from knee surgery this week.
General manager Rich Cho said it would be up to coach Nate McMillan on whether Wallace will replace Nicolas Batum in the starting lineup and indicated Wallace could play some power forward. Wallace, a former NBA All-Defensive team member, has sustained at least four concussions in his career and has been reluctant to play that position in the past.
Cho said Wallace would take his physical Friday and it was uncertain if he’d play later that night against Denver. The Blazers (32-25) sit in seventh place in the crowded Western Conference standings.
“He is just the sort of talent we were looking for,” Blazers owner Paul Allen said. “I’m sure our fans will embrace him and hopefully he can help us make some noise in the playoffs.”
The Bobcats had been shopping Wallace for months, and the talks increased since Gerald Henderson’s recent emergence. They had discussions with Cleveland and had been in on-and-off talks with the Blazers over the past few days, haggling over different combinations of players and draft picks.
Wallace had expressed a desire to stay in Charlotte right through Thursday’s practice, which ended about three hours before the trade.
“I feel like I owe the city. The city doesn’t owe me anything,” Wallace said. “I was given an opportunity to showcase my skills here.”
This is the second time since Jordan bought the team last year that the six-time NBA champion has sliced payroll from a team losing tens of millions of dollars a year.
Center Tyson Chandler was dealt to Dallas last summer for center Erick Dampier. Charlotte later voided Dampier’s $13 million contract and waived him to get under the luxury tax threshold.
With two first-round picks and lowering their salary-cap figure by $8 million for next year, the Bobcats have more flexibility to reshape the roster. It’s a departure from the past few years when Jordan was quick to trade draft picks for veterans.
The Blazers, already in luxury tax territory, took on even more salary while keeping their core rotation intact.
“I think that the moves today helps us in terms of our position in the Western Conference,” Blazers President Larry Miller said.
The moves leave Portland with two open roster spots and limited depth at center behind Marcus Camby, who is currently rehabbing from knee surgery.
The 7-foot-1 Przybilla was averaging 1.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 31 games, but will likely become Kwame Browns’ backup in Charlotte. Mohammed, who was in the final year of his deal, will now join the athletic and talented Thunder.
Cunningham was averaging 5.1 points and 3.4 rebounds. White, who is due only $2 million next season, has played in 28 games and is averaging 2.8 points this season. The 33-year-old Peterson has not played in a game since Dec. 12.
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.