Kristaps Porzing Poised to Give Celtics ‘High-Level Year’

BOSTON – When Kristaps Porzingis finally fell asleep around 1 p.m. 4 last Thursday morning, he still wasn’t sure if a trade to the Boston Celtics would happen.

The initial three-team deal that Porzingis had thought would bring him to Boston, where the LA Clippers had fallen through. And finally he decided that he simply had to go to bed and leave his fate to the morning.

“It was a crazy day for me,” Porzingis, sitting between Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens on a stage at the Auerbach Center’s practice court Thursday afternoon, said with a broad smile. “I was going to sleep and then I heard the news that the deal didn’t go through, so it kept me awake a little longer.

“But then at four in the morning at home, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll go to bed and see what happens’.”

What happened, it turned out, was that the deal actually went through, and Porzingis found his way to the Celtics in a three-team deal with the Memphis Grizzlies and his former team, the Washington Wizards.

“[When I woke] up in the morning, I saw that it happened, the trade happened,” Porzingis said, “and I was just extremely excited and extremely happy.”

Those two words — “excited” and “happy” — came up a lot during Porzingis’ roughly 20-minute press conference Thursday. After spending the first eight years of his NBA career playing in a combined 10 playoff games — and never getting out of the first round — Porzingis made it clear he was excited about the prospect of joining a contender.

“[It was] an opportunity to already play for a really good team and be able to add to that,” Porzingis said when asked what went into his decision to pick up his $36 million player option to facilitate the trade.” And hopefully helping these guys, making their lives easier, and being at a high-profile organization like Boston, historic franchise, iconic franchise, made it extremely easy for me to make that decision.”

Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 lightweight, is coming off arguably the best season of his career. In 65 games during his only full season with the Wizards, he averaged a career-best 23.2 points per game. game with 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for him the past couple of seasons. In 2019, he was traded from the New York Knicks to Dallas, where he was expected to be the second star the Mavericks sought to pair with Luka Doncic long-term. Instead, it was a partnership that showed brief flashes of promise but ultimately resulted in Porzingis being shipped to Washington at the 2022 trade deadline for guard Spencer Dinwiddie and forward Davis Bertans.

Porzingis said he has matured both physically and mentally over the last several years and feels he is entering a great situation as he approaches what he believes will be his best years in his career.

“I think these are the best years for a basketball player,” said Porzingis, who turns 28 in August. “You’re there physically and mentally you get to another level. I think the work paid off for me. I looked at my game, I looked at how I could be more efficient and just really analyzed myself and it paid off from last season, all the work I put in off the court to stay healthy.

“My body is maturing and it helped to get up to that age and I think I have some great years at a high level ahead of me.”

That’s certainly what the Celtics hope and expect will be the case after landing Porzingis in a deal that involved trading Marcus Smart, Boston’s longest-tenured member and emotional leader as well as the NBA’s 2022 Defensive Player of the Year.

Moving Smart for Porzingis represented a shift for Boston on several fronts. That’s especially true on the heels of the Celtics losing in seven games to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals after nearly coming back from a 3-0 deficit. The most obvious and discussed aspect of the deal was losing Smart’s voice from the locker room.

Stylistically, however, the deal represents a dramatic restructuring of the Celtics’ roster. Boston’s defense in recent seasons has often relied on having interchangeable defenders across the board, and for much of last season coach Joe Mazzulla leaned toward playing smaller, faster lineups. Porzingis, while a strong rim protector, isn’t mobile enough to function in such a scheme, and at 7-foot-3, is one of the league’s tallest players.

Boston will also look very different on the offensive end. Smart has served as the team’s point guard for the past two seasons and was arguably the Celtics’ best passer. And despite his preference for smaller, faster lineups, Mazzulla made it clear he prioritized 3-point shooting. Porzingis, a career 36% 3-point shooter on 5.1 attempts per game, shot 38.5% – the second-best percentage of his career – on 5.5 attempts last season. He was also one of the league’s most effective post-up players, giving Boston a different look offensively that way as well.

“Just how he can take some pressure off Al [Horford] and Rob [Williams]how we can play double-big, how we can continue to use Kristaps the same way we used Al and how we can get better,” Mazzulla said when asked how he viewed Porzingis’ fit with Boston’s roster . “So obviously with his ability to play out of the post, I think it’s going to take some pressure off our guys and add another dimension to our offense.”

The other theme Porzingis emphasized in his press conference was that he hopes to find ways to take pressure off Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. He said he was looking forward to playing with them and taking advantage of the space they create by attracting so much attention.

“I want to come here to make life easier for those guys,” Porzingis said. “Hopefully, with my skills and my talent, I can take some pressure off those guys. And that’s it. I’m coming here to try to make this team better. And I’m excited to play with high-level guys that have been there from year to year and already have that experience. So I think it can be a great combination.”

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