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Can Kristaps Porzingis Finally Deliver the Goods?

Kristaps Porzingis

When Boston Celtics President Brad Stevens evaluated his team’s biggest offseason need, it wasn’t too hard to see that additional size and length was high on the list. They struggled to contain Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo in their loss in the Eastern Conference Finals and had they advanced they had zero answer for Denver Nuggets MVP Nikola Jokic. When the opportunity arose for Stevens to rescue Kristaps Porzingis from the Washington Wizards’ perpetual, directionless rebuild, he jumped on it. Of course, this isn’t the first time Porzingis has been seen as a possible Finals solution.

When Dallas Mavericks Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki retired it left a gaping hole in their lineup. Dirk’s size and length in the paint, his knack for knocking down big threes and his versatility made him a hard act to follow. When the New York Knicks put Porzingis on the market, he seemed like the perfect solution for a team looking for a second star to pair with Luka Doncic. At 7’3”, KP averaged 10.6 rebounds per game for the Knicks while scoring 22.7 points in his third season and shooting just under 40% from behind the three-point arc. Those aren’t quite Nowitzki numbers, but they are darned close. 

The downside, of course, was that Porzingis missed the entire 2018-19 season due to an ACL injury and there were questions about how long it might take him to get back to 100%. That turned out to be a huge issue for Dallas, for though KP was able to give them 20 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 35% from three, he managed to play in just 90 games in his first two seasons with the team. Without his consistent play, Dallas fell well short of their championship aspirations and even parted ways with long-time head coach and NBA champion Rick Carlisle. Midway through the 2021-22 season the Mavs declared the KP/Luka pairing a failure and traded him to Washington.

Is there reason to hope that KP might be a championship harbinger on this, his fourth team? Back Sports Page’s Matt Strout (@TheRealStrout) breaks it down.

The Celtics took a swing before the NBA Draft and traded Marcus Smart for Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis brings to the team a more capable one-on-one scoring big man than they had during their Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals runs. Add in his shooting and rim protection, and you can see why Stevens thought he would fit. But in between the hours spent watching Porzingis highlights and Smart tributes was the ticking clock of Jaylen Brown’s extension. During that period, the reports from insiders saying Brown and the Celtics were “progressing” kept coming too. So, what was holding things up?  

The trade for Porzingis was only the first half of a tricky equation. Seemingly, the Celtics had gotten assurances from him and his representatives that he wanted to stay long-term in Boston. Long-term meant dolling out a two-year extension to Porzingis for $60 million. But wait, there’s more. Locking Porzingis up until 2026 meant that there would be an overlap between Brown, Porzingis, and Jayson Tatum’s possible extension with the Celtics. The financial outlook for the Celtics looked and felt messy at that moment. Add in the fact that teams are now severely penalized for going over the luxury tax and “super-tax” lines. Therefore, during that wait-and-see period, extending Porzingis felt like a hedge on their bets if they couldn’t agree with Brown. The thinking might have been, if they couldn’t get everything, why not maximize their chances for one year with KP?

While KP does check a lot of boxes for the Celtics, they will dearly miss Marcus Smart’s presence in the locker room as well as on the court. CelticBlog’s Noa Dalzell (@NoaDalzellNBA) breaks that down for us.

The willingness to part ways with Smart signals the front office’s confidence in Derrick White, and a desire to bolster the frontcourt in the Giannis-Jokic-Embiid era. 

White is coming off of a productive 2022-23 campaign, where he averaged 12.4 points per game on 46% shooting, including a career-high 38.1% from three, during the regular season. His numbers rose in the playoffs — he averaged 13.4 points on 50.5% shooting, including a team-best 45.5% from three. He also solidified his spot as a premier defensive guard, being named to the All Defensive Second Team and leading all guards in total blocks in the regular season.

But, filling Smart’s role as the veteran leader of the team could be difficult, particularly since Tatum and Brown have not been known to be the most vocal of leaders to date. With Grant Williams and Blake Griffin (most likely) also exiting this summer, three of the team’s loudest locker room voices will need to be replaced. And, at the end of the day, Smart is still a top-tier defender and playmaker. The main tradeoff with this trade is availability; Porzingis remains injury-prone, as evidenced by the case of plantar fasciitis that kept him out of the FIBA World Cup this summer.

The Celtics are hoping that this time around KP can get and stay healthy, bringing them the lethal frontcourt player they desperately need to match up with some of the elite big men standing between them and a championship run. If he can’t do that, Boston could and should be the last team to place such expectations on KP’s shoulders.


From The Hardwood Huddle:

The 2023-24 NBA season promises to bring significant changes to the balance of power in the Western Conference. While the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers have garnered the most attention, there is A Surprising Contender Rising in the West.

The Boston Celtics made a big splash by signing Jaylen Brown to an historic contract over the summer. It’s a move they almost had to make, despite the fact that the duo of Jayson Tatum and Brown has failed to yield a championship for the team. Facing another season of doing the same things and expecting a different result has the Celtics Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

When Philadelphia 76ers GM Daryl Morey brought James Harden back into the fold, he invited his new team down the same path that led to him stepping down from his last one. Now The James Harden Train Wreck Has Left the Station, and it may cost the Sixers Joel Embiid and Morey his job.

The Dallas Mavericks’ front office continues to build a team that even Mavs Fans For Life (MFFL) will have a hard time loving. Only an unprecedented season from the enigmatic Kyrie Irving can save them. Dallas Mavericks Betting on Kyrie Cryptocurrency.

Throughout the rebuilding process, New Orleans Pelicans GM David Griffin has made all the right moves. Nonetheless, the team is set to face another long season of disappointment. From the front office to the coaching staff, the players and the fans, the Pelicans Do Not Deserve Their Fate.

Bill Ingram is Executive Editor for The Hardwood Huddle, a new website coming to soon from the creators of Back Sports Page. He has been covering the NBA for more than 20 years.

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