Chris Forsberg

Processing a Marcus Smart-less future for Celtics after stunning trade

The Celtics made a franchise-altering move late Wednesday night.

NBC Universal, Inc.

If you went to bed Wednesday night before 10 p.m. and this is the first thing you’re clicking on Thursday morning, well, we hope you’re still lying down.

One of the wilder days in Celtics history saw a three-team trade set to deliver former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis disintegrate in the evening hours, only to be resuscitated at the stroke of midnight, but now sending veteran Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Celtics Talk: Processing the emotions of trading Marcus Smart | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The original iteration of the Porzingis acquisition had the Celtics shipping Malcolm Brogdon to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a three-team swap. Dealing the reigning Sixth Man of the Year wasn’t ideal but it was justifiable given the Porzingis return, as well as a prohibitive new collective bargaining agreement that aims to corral big spenders.

Alas, the Clippers reportedly balked about Brogdon’s health, forcing the Celtics and Wizards to hunt for another partner to join their dance. With Porzingis facing a midnight deadline to opt into the $36 million final year of his deal, there was an urgency to get to the finish line.

But the unexpected twist that the new deal included Smart entirely changed the outlook of the day's events, even with Boston also snagging two first-round picks in the proceedings.

Full terms of Celtics-Grizzlies-Wizards trade:

  • Celtics acquire: Kristaps Porzingis, 2023 first-round pick from Memphis (No. 25 overall), 2024 first-round pick (from Memphis via Golden State)
  • Grizzlies acquire: Marcus Smart
  • Wizards acquire: Mike Muscala, Danilo Gallinari, Tyus Jones, 2023 second-round pick from Boston (No. 35 overall)

It’s hard to even process a Celtics team that doesn’t include Smart. While Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are unquestionably the superstars and faces of the franchise, Smart has always been the heartbeat of the team. The “Love and Trust” era is over in Boston.

It was almost exactly 10 years ago that the Celtics traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets in a franchise-altering trade that delivered the picks that would later become Tatum and Brown. Brad Stevens was hired as head coach a week later and, after his tough first season on the bench, the Celtics took Smart with the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The Celtics haven’t missed the playoffs since.

Smart and his winning plays were a constant in the many different iterations of a Boston teams hunting for Banner 18. In 2022, Smart was the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year in a quarter century and set the tone for a team that got back to the championship stage.

Now he’s gone.

Maybe Smart wasn’t long for Boston. He’ll turn 30 next season. His defense eroded last year. His shot selection often drew critiques from even his most ardent supporters. His production alongside the Jays last season wasn’t nearly as glossy as it had in previous years.

And yet we still can’t quite wrap our head around the idea that Smart won’t be part of Boston’s core any more.

If the Celtics planned to keep Porzingis long term, then Smart was unlikely to be on the roster long term. Boston will have to make tough choices with many of its supporting pieces. Porzingis is due a new deal and will be extension-eligible in July. The Jays are preparing to enter the supermax stratosphere following All-NBA seasons.

Wednesday’s twists and turns made the Smart move that much more of a shock. The Grizzlies will benefit from his veteran leadership, particularly in the wake of the Ja Morant suspension. Boston loses one of its loudest voices and someone that players routinely cited as a leader of this squad.

Maybe something had to give. The Celtics have had much success in Smart’s time but never reached the ultimate goal. A disappointing exit in the Eastern Conference Finals made it tough to stomach the idea of simply running it back. A new CBA is going to complicate roster decisions for all of the NBA’s biggest spenders sooner than later.

The question, of course, is what comes next? Are the Celtics able to welcome Brogdon back to the fold after nearly dealing him away? Will he require surgery on that elbow before next season, and what does his recovery timeline look like? How does Boston fill out a roster that still has some notable holes even after adding a talent like Porzingis?

Hints, or maybe some answers, could come starting with Thursday’s NBA Draft. The Celtics now own the No. 25 pick after acquiring two first-rounders as part of the Smart swap. Boston can either make a play for another proven commodity, or potentially hunt a young point guard in the draft who can eventually take the keys to the offense.

Maybe the Celtics will be better in the end. Maybe this was inevitable. But there’s been a whole lot of maybes in this story. And far more maybes than when you went to bed last night.

Contact Us