Brad Stevens cut from the same cloth as Boston Celtics championship GM

Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

Before the 2023 NBA Offseason began, Brad Stevens had already done an excellent job taking over as Danny Ainge’s replacement for President of Basketball Operations of the Boston Celtics — but this summer, he did something that no one was sure that he was capable of beforehand. While Stevens’ moves in the front office have played a sizable role in how the Celtics have re-established themselves as contenders, his decision to trade Marcus Smart in the package deal for Kristaps Porzingis demonstrated that he is not too different from Ainge himself as an executive.

For the record, an executive does not have to be Danny Ainge to be good at what they do, but one of his calling cards during his days running the ship was never letting sentiment get in the way of making the Celtics team the best he can be, and that was evident from the very get-go.

Shortly following Ainge’s hiring in 2003, fan-favorite and all-star Antoine Walker was shipped out of town, which was not an easy pill to swallow. Walker helped bring the Boston Celtics back to heights that hadn’t been seen since the Larry Bird days, and his fun-loving energy made it easy for fans to gravitate to him. Ainge knew that trading a beloved player like Toine was not going to be received well by the fans, and he didn’t care.

The Celtics weren’t a title team with Walker and Paul Pierce, and they didn’t have avenues of becoming one. Bottom line: Ainge wanted to build a winner and believed that dealing Walker was the first step towards accomplishing that goal. And this was the first of many moves that Ainge made, believing that it was best for the team despite the initial sting that came with it.

It didn’t matter to Ainge that Kendrick Perkins was the starting center of a title team or that Isaiah Thomas had put up one of the finest offensive seasons Beantown had ever seen, or that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had previously established among the very best in Boston Celtics history. When he saw the chance for the Cs to get better, whether it was short-term or long-term, their time was up.

How Brad Stevens proved he’s cut from the same cloth as ex-Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge

Ainge had a reputation for being as good of an executive as he was ruthless. When Stevens took over, the question remained if he had the guts to make the Celtics better by any means, even if it meant letting go of someone whom the city held dear. Trading Smart fits that description to a T, no matter who was coming back.

Smart had a fifth Beatle-like vibe to most (not all) Boston Celtics fans because his skillset was not only rare, but it gave the team energy, and his contributions helped the Cs go on extended playoff runs. His place on the team was seemingly so unquestionable that when it was reported that he was headed to Memphis, Porzingis getting traded to Boston was no longer the headline that day. Smart no longer donning Celtics green was.

It didn’t matter that Porzingis was coming off his most efficient season as a pro and his healthiest in years, averaging 23.2 points on 49.8% shooting from the field and 38.5% from three in 65 games, per Basketball Reference. It didn’t matter that he’s the most potent scoring threat the Jays have ever had among the bigs they’ve played with. It didn’t matter that, on paper, he’s the most talented two-way big the Celtics have had since Kevin Garnett. Smart being gone overrode all of that. That’s the reputation the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year had.

Now luckily, fans have had the offseason to fully digest the trade. While Smart’s departure still stings, knowing the potential of Porzingis’ impact on the team is undoubtedly tantalizing enough that it may have very well gotten them over the hump. However, let’s also not kid ourselves. There is a non-minimal chance this doesn’t work.

Porzingis’ plantar fasciitis keeping him out of the FIBA World Cup served as a good reminder of what the Boston Celtics were getting themselves into when they got him. He’s injury-prone, and he doesn’t have much playoff experience to his name. He’ll still have to prove himself before the fanbase fully embraces him, knowing what had been given up to get him. Still, making this trade signified that Stevens swings for the fences.

In a perfect world, the Celtics would have Porzingis and Smart on the same team, but that world doesn’t exist. What does exist in Boston is having an executive who’s willing to do what it takes to assemble the best team possible while not letting attachment to a certain player get in the way of that.

The Boston Celtics had that with Ainge, and it appears they have it again with Stevens.

Before trading Smart for Porzingis, Stevens had proven he was a more than competent executive, but once the trade was completed, it was clear he, too, did not let sentiment get in the way of improving the team’s title chances much like Ainge. While it remains unproven that he made the right move, it has been proven that Brad Stevens has guts.