While there has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about Brad Stevens’s decision to ship Marcus Smart out for Kristaps Porziņģis --losing the emotional core, giving up Smart’s defensive skills, and his overall hustle and leadership-- there is a historical reason why the Celtics made the trade.
In the franchise's history Boston has never won an NBA Championship without an All-Star caliber center.
Bill Russell was at the heart of their first 11 banners; Dave Cowens anchored the next two. Robert Parish was in the middle for the three Bird and McHale brought through the door; and Kevin Garnett (regardless of his not wanting to be considered a center) was the presence in the middle for number seventeen. Even in the five years the Celtics have been to the mountain and lost, four times their centers were Russell (1958), Parish (1985, 1987), and Garnett (2010).
The amazing thing about the 21-22 Celtics run to the Finals wasn’t that they coughed it up against the Warriors but that they got there with a center rotation built around 35-year old Al Horford, the injured and still-maturing Robert Williams, and 6-5 Grant Williams, along with contributions from Daniel Theis, Enes Freedom, Luke Kornet, and Bruno Fernandez. And then last year the Celtics got to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals with an older Al Horford, a more injured Rob Williams, Grant Williams still at 77 inches tall…. Yes, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade; but no matter how much you squeeze, it won’t ever be a steak dinner.
So this summer, here comes Brad with what could conceivably turn out to be the Parish Trade 2.0. Porziņģis comes over to Boston one year older than the Chief was on his arrival with comparable numbers albeit a more checkered health history. And because Memphis valued Marcus more than the Clippers valued Malcolm Brogdon, the Celtics got a pair of first-round picks; the 2023 pick was turned into Jordan Walsh and some number of other, future 2nd round picks. The other first round pick could convey to Boston in the 2024 draft if the Warriors don’t land in the top four slots.
No, I’m not predicting that KP will be the second coming of any of the four previous championship centers, but he offers the Celtics a much better opportunity to get to the Finals and win than the Celtics have had since 2010.