During a visit with WEEI’s Jones and Mego to help promote The Jimmy Fund on Tuesday, President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens opened up about the summer’s big trade that sent Marcus Smart to Memphis and Kristaps Porzingis to Boston. With the WEEI/NESN radio-telethon focused on raising money for cancer research and care, Stevens opened up about dealing one of the city’s most beloved players and community leaders.
“We’ve been chockful of a lot of quality people for a long time,” Stevens said referring to Smart’s departure from Boston this summer. However, with that love and trust in Memphis now, Stevens sees opportunity in the Celtics locker room.
“That gives other people a voice. That gives other people a voice to step in to and step up to. Very obviously, we need Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown] to continue to grow in that area and we think they’re among the best that there can be.”
Brad Stevens addresses trading Marcus Smart and says they need Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to take that role, “We need Jayson and Jaylen to continue to grow in that area, and I think they’re among the best that they can be, and we need them to step up to that.” pic.twitter.com/RppeNRxlwd— Jones & Mego with Arcand (@JonesandMego) August 29, 2023
With Brown inking a five-year, $304 million supermax extension and Tatum expected to do the same next summer, Stevens has set the foundation of the franchise for the foreseeable future with two All-NBA talents and done enough in each offseason for a Finals run and a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He’s arguably won every trade since replacing Danny Ainge two summers ago, but after the Porzingis deal and the more constrictive collective bargaining agreement on the horizon, the roster could be set for the next three years.
“Ultimately, our job is to chase banners and that’s what we’re trying to do. We think this team will be in the mix again, but being in the mix is only part of it, Stevens said. “You gotta be able to play your best when your best is needed. I thought we had a couple of bad weeks last year and the worst one was in May. We just can’t let that happen if we’re going to be what we want to be.”
To address those shortcomings, Stevens focused on balancing his team, knowing that he could syphon off the strengths of the roster to fortify its weaknesses.
“As you looked at it as simply as a roster construction standpoint last year, Payton [Pritchard] really got squeezed obviously because our guards were so deep. With Marcus, with Malcolm, with Derrick, you slide Jayson to the point a lot with that group or he brought the ball up a lot...and our bigs were pretty thin.”
The Celtics started last season without Robert Williams as he rehabbed from knee surgery. They become a three-point shooting juggernaut and an offensive force, but as the year progressed and the team got relatively healthy, they played big — double big — more often and shored up their defense.
“When Rob was out at the start of the year, those guys that played in his place did an amazing job keeping us afloat. Blake [Griffin] was as good as it gets on and off the court. Luke [Kornet] did a really good job. Al [Horford] at 36 years old did a really good job. We just can’t put that much on those guys and continue to expect it to be at the level we need it to be, so we had to address the balance of the roster,” Stevens said.
With that in mind, when the opportunity arose to acquire Porzingis, the decision was easy. Boston didn’t necessarily want to part ways with the longest tenured Celtic and the heart and soul of the roster, but it was clear to the front office and management that a change needed to be made.
“The part that was very obvious was he’s 7-foot-3. He can play the 5 and the 4 and he can play with any of our 5’s and 4’s which I think is important,” Stevens said.
“If you bring in someone that is just a center, it’s hard to play them and Rob together. But if you bring in someone with the skills that Kristaps has, that has the skillset that Al has, you can mix-and-match a little bit. You can stay bigger longer. That’s something we couldn’t do as much last year with our smaller groups because a lot of our best players were guards.”
Porzingis is currently sitting out the FIBA World Cup with a bout of plantar fasciitis. Stevens assured fans that he should be ready for training camp with no lingering effects. “This is not what I would call a significant injury, big picture,” Stevens said.
Porzingis attempted to ramp up for international play, but when the injury flared up earlier in August, he and the Celtics medical staff made the precautionary decision to sit out in order to avoid further complications.
“Kristaps [Porzingis] seems to be a in a really good place. He is focused on what matters. He’s coming here to do his part to help us win. That was very clear in communicating with him when he was here for his press conference.”
To help support cancer research and care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, click here to donate to The Jimmy Fund.