Should The Boston Celtics Trade Kemba Walker For Kristaps Porzingis?
The Boston Celtics have a long to-do list this offseason in Brad Stevens’ first summer as president of basketball operations. It begins with Boston’s head coaching vacancy, but the team has plenty of personnel decisions to make beyond that process. Kemba Walker’s future in Boston seems to stand out above the rest.
The 31-year-old has two years and almost $74 million left on his contract. He is set to make roughly $36 million during the 2021-22 season and $37.7 million in 2022-23, which revolves around a player option. Walker isn’t getting any younger, and his injury history certainly could push the team to try and get off of his current deal. He was solid down the stretch of the regular season, although the durability concerns resurfaced during the playoffs when Walker missed the final two games of Boston’s first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets due to a bone bruise in his knee. Moving a contract that big can be difficult, which is why the Dallas Mavericks have been floated as a potential trade partner for the Celtics.
Kristaps Porzingis is set to make $101.5 million over the next three seasons, an ugly contract from the perspective of just about any NBA team. According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the one-time All-Star “has been frustrated, often feeling more like an afterthought than a co-star as (Luka) Doncic dominates the ball and the spotlight.” His “distant” relationship with franchise cornerstone Luka Doncic puts his future in Dallas in question, and Boston’s situation with Walker inevitably puts it in the conversation as a potential trade partner for the Mavericks.
The Celtics currently are the betting favorites to land Porzingis via trade, according to BetOnline.ag, followed by the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. Just because Walker and Porzingis’ contracts can successfully be matched in a deal doesn’t mean it would make sense for Boston. Yes, I’m sure the Celtics would like to get off of Walker’s contract, but do they want to so badly that they would be willing to take on Porzingis’ massive deal in return? That seems pretty unlikely, and rightfully so.
There are several reasons why a potential Walker-Porzingis deal makes far more sense for Dallas than it does Boston. The Mavericks could use a ball-handler like Walker alongside Doncic, so Donnie Nelson should be intrigued, especially if he can ship Porzingis off in the process. Brad Stevens, however — not so much. The main benefit of trading away Walker is to get off of his deal, and bringing back Porzingis with an additional contract year eliminates that right off the bat. Boston would be trading one massive contract for an arguably worse one that extends an additional season. That alone should make this potential trade unappealing to Stevens and the Celtics front office, but the cons from Boston’s perspective aren’t solely based on money.
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As previously mentioned, Porzingis reportedly is unhappy playing in the shadow of Luka Doncic. If he were to be traded to Boston, he would certainly be behind Jayson Tatum and more than likely Jaylen Brown as well. What makes you think that Porzingis, who currently is disgruntled being the second option behind Luka Doncic, would be content as the third option behind Tatum and Brown? It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Porzingis changes his approach and suddenly is happy being the third option on his new team. And if he were to become Boston’s third option, his on-court fit next to Tatum and Brown would not be ideal. Porzingis undeniably is not a playmaker that could help the Celtics raise their ceiling.
In addition to the questionable on- and off-court fit, Porzingis has not been the most durable player himself. He suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in last year’s playoffs and missed 29 games during the 2020-21 regular season. His lingering “knee soreness” doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and he hasn’t played 60 games in a season since the 2016-17 campaign.
One counterargument arrives after evaluating other potential suitors. With his durability issues and heavy contract, Walker likely doesn’t have too much value on the trade market, meaning there may not be other options out there with a ceiling as high as Porzingis’. If Boston were to acquire Porzingis, however, the floor in that scenario is unbelievably low, something that should outweigh the potential rewards on the other end. Yes, at 25 years old, Porzingis fits better with Tatum and Brown’s timeline than Walker does, but that does not make this trade worthwhile for Boston.
Boston’s motivation to move Walker revolves around his contract and injury issues, right? So why would the Celtics be inclined to bring in Porzingis with a bigger contract, fit concerns and injury problems of his own? The Mavericks would be the unquestioned winners of a Porzingis-Walker trade. Stevens has no shortage of decisions to make in his first few months as a front office executive, but this should be one of the easier calls.