In Luke Kornet, the Celtics have a big man who excels at the little things


“I’m ready to play 30 minutes or zero minutes and everything in between,” Kornet said.

Celtics center Luke Kornet will have a very important role on his team this season. Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

Luke Kornet first arrived in Boston a few years ago unsure of what role he would play on the Celtics. He knew that he was responsible for making his new team better, but he would have to figure out how to do that with the meager playing time he was fortunate enough to receive. 

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Now, Kornet is the next big man up on a Celtics team with championship aspirations, being counted upon to replicate the production of Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford should they become unavailable. 

How did Kornet go from a recently-traded afterthought on the Celtics’ roster to one of its most important centers?

He learned how to make his team better, and it’s now the only thing he cares about.

“I feel like all [expectations] I really have for myself is just figuring out whatever best helps us win on a daily basis,” Kornet told “And I really try not to have much other than that.”

Kornet is wired to play basketball in a different way than most people are. While many players hone their craft by taking difficult shots in practice, Kornet focuses on improving his screening and rebounding to ensure that the shots those other players take are always easy. 

It’s not the flashiest way to play, but it wins games and makes the Celtics’ many scoring threats better. For those reasons, that’s the only way Kornet wants to play.

“From high school and college, I feel like my whole life just kind of flowed to where all I really care about is just figuring out whatever it is that helps our team win,” Kornet said.

That doesn’t mean it’s the only way he can play. Kornet has always been able to mold his game to whatever best fits his teams on a given night, whether that means he’s the No. 1 scoring option or a permanent fixture on the bench.

“I’m ready for basically whatever the team gives,” Kornet said. “I feel like throughout my life and career I’ve played every role from being the main guy to being the worst guy on the team.”

Kornet’s malleability has proven very important to the Celtics, and it’s part of what defines him as an NBA defender. Not only does Kornet work at becoming one of the best rim protectors in the league, he makes every effort to stop defenders at the perimeter and even guard multiple positions well enough to reliably switch on ball screens.

That Swiss Army Knife playstyle shows itself on offense as well. When Kornet has the ball in his hands, he finishes whenever he has the opportunity to do so and he looks to set his teammates up as a facilitator otherwise. When he’s without the ball, he screens to ensure that the guys who do have it are as open as possible.

Because of this versatility, Kornet’s coaches have high expectations for him to contribute in as many ways as he can. Those expectations aren’t all that different from his own.

“A lot of it is just stuff that I naturally do and I’m always kind of looking to do for our team and for our players that we have,” Kornet said.

Those teams and players have changed frequently throughout Kornet’s career, including this past offseason. The Celtics shocked the league in June when they traded for Porzingis, a former teammate of Kornet’s when they played together in New York, and one he’s excited to once again share a locker room with.

“I feel like Boston is a great place for [Porzingis] and for all of us to be challenged, and he really helps in terms of bringing some skill sets that very few people in the world have,” Kornet said. “So I was excited honestly just to have him back, to see how he’s doing and to play with him again.”

But the Celtics weren’t done making headlines. Just as training camp was set to begin, they acquired guard Jrue Holiday in a trade that sent center Robert Williams III to Portland.

Despite the excitement of playing with another all-star in Holiday, Kornet wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Williams yet.

“[I was] just pretty sad about losing Rob because he’s such a great teammate and person that, yeah, I was gonna miss him,” Kornet said.

Boston’s big man room completely transformed over the summer, and it even became smaller with the departure of Grant Williams. That meant that Kornet would almost certainly be depended upon much more often this season than he used to be. 

This is the most responsibility Kornet has ever had in his NBA career, and he is more than eager to take it on. 

“I think at different parts of my life and career I would have probably felt a lot differently about it,” Kornet said, “but I feel like now I’m just ready for whatever is called on me.”

What that entails remains to be seen given how young the season is so far. His role could fluctuate from watching Porzingis and Horford man his position to playing heavy minutes in case one of them gets hurt in a matter of days. Regardless of whether he stays mostly on the bench or starts at center, Kornet will give all he has no matter how much time he plays.

“I’m ready to play 30 minutes or zero minutes and everything in between,” Kornet said.

Entering a season where his responsibilities will likely change drastically from game to game, Kornet once again finds himself uncertain of what his role on the team will be. But this time, he knows exactly how to make his team better, which is all he needs to determine that role and contribute every time he touches the floor.

“I just love playing basketball and I love figuring it out,” Kornet said. “And so whatever that role is, I feel like I’m going to be ready for it.”