How does Kristaps Porzingis move the needle for the Boston Celtics?

In a trade that spanned one full afternoon, the Boston Celtics acquired Kristaps Porzingis for Malcolm Brogdon -- but what does that do for the C's? Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
In a trade that spanned one full afternoon, the Boston Celtics acquired Kristaps Porzingis for Malcolm Brogdon -- but what does that do for the C's? Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

I love the anatomy of NBA trades. Sometimes they blindside you, sometimes they feel inevitable. But other times — like the June 21 three-team blockbuster sending Malcolm Brogdon to the Los Angeles Clippers and Kristaps Porzingis to the Boston Celtics — they’re more like an afternoon-sized snowball.

Here I am, minding my own business at 12:20 pm, texting with a friend about how we both think the Celtics will make a movie before the draft. He wanted to know my thoughts on a potential Deandre Ayton trade. I said I wasn’t interested but was more hoping we could get some value out of one of the three guards.

Now it’s 2:00 pm. I’m enjoying a walk around the neighborhood with my dog in the lovely Boston weather. Then Shams Charania told me to snap out of it because the Boston Celtics were targeting Porzingis.

And then the snowball got going. Suddenly Brogdon was headed to LA in a three-team deal, and Marcus Morris was going to Washington? And then…blamo. The trade was done, not even one full viewing of The Raiders of the Lost Ark since it was first reported.

My head is spinning, but I’m 78 percent confident this is a good idea. Let’s answer some questions.

Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Question 1: Why would the Boston Celtics trade Brogdon?

In recent days, the prospect that the Celtics would move on from one of their three guards felt very likely. As the playoffs ran on, it became painstakingly clear that Derrick White was the best guard on the team, particularly as a supporting piece to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Marcus Smart would momentarily retake alpha guard status, but White was more consistent.

If I’m being 110% honest, Smart was not immune from my cerebral trade speculation either. He tended to take the ball out of Tatum’s hands in key moments, and it drove me nuts. But he had flashes of awesomeness that made me hesitate, and all signals point to him being essential for team culture. All that made him quasi-untouchable.

The odd man out was Brogdon, who became literally unplayable in the Miami Heat series due to an elbow injury rendering his outside shot useless. He was brought in to take some offensive creation duties off Tatum and Brown, a job he did so well during the regular season that it netted him 6th Man of the Year honors.

But if the last half-decade has been any indicator, the Boston Celtics should be squarely focused on building an NBA Finals-caliber roster, not one that can consistently stomp through the regular season and flame out at the end. In tense series’, rotations grind down and the game gets tight. White showed that he could create offensive off of Tatum and Brown, so when push came to shove, Brogdon’s niche just wasn’t worth the risk.

Then comes the question of Payton Pritchard, who, despite being in an NBA Finals rotation one year prior, was relegated to no man’s land once Brogdon came aboard. He was the most overqualified garbage-time merchant in the league and would have been a legitimate contributor on 29 other teams in the league.

It was an embarrassment of riches at guard, but elite depth is not what you want in the playoffs. Sure, the Celtics could have revolutionized basketball and employed a true ten-man rotation, but that kind of minute-spreading would get smoked by 40+ minute outings from opposing stars.

As crazy as this sounds, trading Brogdon or Pritchard was the logical way forward. Pritchard maybe gets you some second-round picks, but Brogdon apparently bought a former All-Star who can help solve the Celtics’ size problems. Let’s talk about that guy.

Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Question 2: Why would the Boston Celtics trade for Kristaps Porzingis?

Porzingis has had a fascinating career. A kid literally cried in anguish at the 2015 NBA Draft when the New York Knicks selected him with the fourth overall pick. His next three years proved that kid wrong, finding him on an All-Star team but also tearing his left ACL.

Organizational disagreements led him to Dallas and his first playoff action, and eventually to a super weird Wizards team that probably should have been rebuilding but instead decided they would just be…fine.

All that mediocrity probably masked the smell of some real promise, because Porzingis had the best year of his career, playing in 65 games and posting a career-high 23 points per game on his best shooting percentage to date. Unfortunately, all this came on a Wizards team that was neither a playoff contender nor a bottom-feeder, so nobody cared.

So how does Porzingis fit on this Boston Celtics team? Really nicely actually, as he can slide effortlessly between the PF and C positions depending on the matchup, and should be able to take some rim protection responsibilities off the very fragile shoulders and knees of Robert Williams III. I wouldn’t be shocked either if Al Horford became more of a bench fixture during the regular season to preserve his longevity.

Guards and ball handlers were hardly the issues for the Celtics last year. I can count 3.8 good ones — the -0.2 accounting for Jaylen Brown’s left hand — even after losing Brogdon. But I see two bigs and Grant Williams against a conference whose two best players are seven-footers.

Maybe this is confirmation bias talking, but it’s possible they were missing a big forward or center that could space the floor. And at seven-foot-three, Porzingis is the tallest forward in the league for the next 24 hours until Victor Wembanyama rolls up.

All this sounds like sunshine and lollipops, but you’ll remember that I’m only 78% confident, so why the 22% anxiety? Injury concerns are a chunk of it, but it’s not like Brogdon was the picture of health either. My main concern is Porzingis’ constant role as a good stats-bad team guy, so I’m not sure his production is a reflection of his ability to contribute to a winning team.

His fit is great on paper, but he’ll have to adapt his game to an off-ball tune, with floor stretching shooting, and rim protection. Hopefully, his desire for a ring makes it all possible.

Finally, this trade sheds some light on other offseason questions. Brown’s extension feels very likely now that one of the offensive initiators just moved across the country, and Grant Williams’ time on the Celtics has probably run its course. In theory, Porzingis is a flat-out upgrade to his spot. I wish both Brogdon and Grant the best. Despite some struggles, they were great Celtics.

Thus, the circle of basketball life. Last year the Boston Celtics bet on Grant and got Pritchard a replacement. This year, Pritchard is back and Grant got upgraded. It’s brutal out here, but it’s also kind of beautiful.