Boston Celtics Should Absolutely Not Trade Marcus Smart Under Any Circumstances
Brad Stevens has been terribly busy in the first few months of his new gig as the general manager, rather than the head coach, of the Boston Celtics. His first big deal came last month, when he traded Kemba Walker and the No. 16 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford and Moses Brown. It was an expensive but necessary avenue to begin to reshape a roster that fell far short of expectations last year and get off Walker's contract.
After the draft finished up on Thursday, Stevens once again worked the phones to attempt to revitalize his team. He traded Tristian Thompson for further salary relief and brought Kris Dunn to town as point guard depth in the process. He also traded for Josh Richardson, who fits neatly into the remaining $11 million of the Gordon Hayward trade exception. What the Celtics gave up in exchange for Richardson is still unknown, but it's expected to not be much more than a second-round pick or a non-guaranteed contract. The Mavs wanted to get Richardson's salary off the books in any way possible and the Celtics could add him without changing much in terms of their salary cap situation, so they did.
Stevens' aggressiveness has led some to wonder if he'll pull off a bigger deal with the salaries he's accumulated. Bradley Beal seems settled in Washington and there remains no more information on Damian Lillard's status in Portland, so chasing a superstar is pretty much off the table at this time. On Monday morning, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated reported Stevens has been frustrated with Marcus Smart's inconsistency over the last few years and is looking to move on from the All-Defense guard.
Boston’s acquisition of Josh Richardson could spell the end of Marcus Smart’s run in Boston. Smart has become a fan favorite over seven years in Boston, but Brad Stevens has been frustrated by Smart’s unpredictable play in recent years, per sources. Smart, one of the NBA’s better perimeter defenders, is entering the final year of his contract. Boston could extend Smart, but two people familiar with Stevens thinking tell SI it’s more likely Stevens will look to trade Smart before the start of the season.
Here's the thing about all that: No!
Smart's inconsistency is surely frustrating from a coaching standpoint. His irrational confidence is what makes him great defensively and what can turn him into a burden offensively. The man hits one 3-pointer and is suddenly heat-checking with 20 seconds left on the shot clock from all over the court. And at this point, that probably isn't going to change all that much. Smart is who he is after eight years in the league.
But Smart is still a net positive and you cannot possibly convince me otherwise. Stevens shouldn't talk himself into that not being true, either. When Smart is on the right team, a fully healthy squad with two to three better offensive options in front of him, he is the perfect role player that every championship team wants. Just look at the Celtics' bubble series against the Raptors. They don't win that series without his defense, timely scoring, and ability to run a pick-and-roll set when everything else fails. His chase-down block earned the win in Game 7 to make the Eastern Conference Finals. It wasn't a lucky play that any other NBA-caliber player could have made, either. It was a difficult block in a huge moment and Smart executed to perfection. It was not his first clutch defensive moment and it will not be his last.
This kind of report is especially confusing considering the Celtics have no point guard depth at the moment after trading Walker. Smart isn't quite good enough at setting up the offense to be a high-level starting point guard, but he's good enough, especially since it seems part of the motivation for trading Walker was to have the offense run through Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown more often. Smart can't and shouldn't be the primary playmaker night-in and night-out, but as the second or third guy who keeps everything moving when those two are on the bench? You'll be hard-pressed to find someone better at that than Smart while offering all he does defensively.
There is a legitimate argument to trade Smart revolving around his contract situation. He's in the final year of his deal and will want an extension that pays him a lot more than his current $13 million salary. The Celtics are entering into their first season with both Tatum and Brown on big deals and will have to toe the salary cap line carefully to avoid going into the luxury tax. The ownership group will give the green light on that front if the Celtics are a legit contender, but right now they're nothing more than playoff hopefuls. Trading Smart this offseason to ensure the team gets some kind of return (as opposed to letting him walk as a free agent next year for nothing) would hurt in the short run but very well could be worth it in the long run, depending on what a trade would look like.
So I guess "under any circumstances" is doing a lot of work in the title. But since we have no idea what contract negotiations are like between team and player right now, I stand by it. Smart is a winning player. He has his flaws, but when weighed with his positives, it should be an easy call to keep him. Stevens is clearly shaking up the roster. But he should leave Smart alone.