The Celtics have a long to-do list this offseason in Brad Stevens’ first summer as president of basketball operations. It starts with Boston’s head coach vacancy, but the team has a lot 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 nearly $ 74 million left on his contract. He is expected to make approximately $ 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 could certainly push the team to try to get out of his current contract. It remained solid throughout the regular season stretch, though 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 bruise on his knee. Moving such a large contract can be difficult, which is why the Dallas Mavericks have been touted as a potential business partner for the Celtics.
Kristaps Porzingis is set to make $ 101.5 million over the next three seasons, an ugly deal from the perspective of almost any NBA team. According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the former 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 mainstay Luka Doncic puts his future in Dallas in doubt, and Boston’s situation with Walker inevitably puts him in the conversation as a potential business partner for the Mavericks.
The Celtics are currently the betting favorites to land Porzingis through a trade, according to BetOnline.ag, followed by the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. Just because the Walker and Porzingis contracts can successfully coincide in a deal doesn’t mean it makes sense for Boston. Yes, I’m sure the Celtics would like to get out of Walker’s contract, but do they want so much that they’d be willing to accept Porzingis’s massive deal in return? That seems highly unlikely, and rightly so.
There are several reasons why a possible Walker-Porzingis deal makes a lot more sense for Dallas than it does for Boston. The Mavericks could use a ball handler like Walker in conjunction with Doncic, so Donnie Nelson should be intrigued, especially if he can send Porzingis in the process. Brad Stevens, however, not so much. The main benefit of trading Walker is getting out of his deal, and bringing Porzingis back with an extra contract year removes that right away. Boston would be trading a massive contract for a possibly worse one that extends an additional season. That alone should make this potential trade unappealing to Stevens and the Celtics’ headquarters, but the downsides from Boston’s perspective are not based solely on money.
As mentioned above, Porzingis is reportedly not happy playing in the shadow of Luka Doncic. If he were to be traded to Boston, he would certainly be behind Jayson Tatum and most likely Jaylen Brown as well. What makes you think that Porzingis, who is currently unhappy about being second choice behind Luka Doncic, would be happy with third option behind Tatum and Brown? It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Porzingis changes his focus and is suddenly happy to be the third option on his new team. And if he were to become Boston’s third option, his fit on the court alongside Tatum and Brown wouldn’t be ideal. Porzingis is certainly not a playmaker who could help the Celtics raise their roof.
Aside from the questionable fit on and off the court, Porzingis hasn’t been the longest-lasting player. 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 nagging “knee pain” doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and he hasn’t played 60 games in a season since the 2016-17 campaign.
A counterargument comes after evaluating other potential suitors. With his durability issues and strong contract, Walker probably doesn’t have much value in the exchange market, which means there may not be other options with a ceiling as high as Porzingis. However, if Boston were to acquire Porzingis, the floor in that scenario is incredibly low, something that should outweigh the potential rewards at the other extreme. Yes, at age 25, Porzingis is a better fit with Tatum and Brown’s timeline than Walker does, but that doesn’t make this trade worthwhile for Boston.
Boston’s motivation for moving Walker revolves around his contract and injury issues, right? So why would the Celtics be inclined to bring in Porzingis with a bigger contract, adjustment concerns, and injury issues of his own? The Mavericks would be the undisputed 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 decisions.