Of all the trade rumors lingering in the NBA ether in this odd offseason, those that must most disturb fans of the Celtics are the ones involving guard Marcus Smart, the team’s fiery wing and fierce perimeter defender.
Smart is much-beloved in and around Boston, but it turns out, he is beloved in other parts of the NBA—most notably, for our purposes, in Golden State, where the Warriors are seeking an Andre Iguodala-type as they seek to regain their footing as a perennial championship contender. Smart’s basketball IQ, his toughness and his versatility make him the ideal smallball fit on a team with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
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Rumors of the Warriors’ interest in Smart go back to before the trading deadline in February. Last month, NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh addressed the rumors, saying Smart would be, “a perfect player for the Golden State Warriors.”
Last week, Bill Simmons of The Ringer floated the possibility of the Warriors, who could absorb Smart’s salary into a trade exception left from the Andre Iguodala deal, giving up the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft for Smart.
Speaking on ESPN’s Lowe Post podcast, Simmons imagined Golden State calling the Celtics: “We’ll offer [pick] No. 2 for Marcus and the [14th pick].’ What does Boston do? I’m on the record saying they can never trade Marcus Smart, I love Marcus Smart. But, if you’re the Celtics, this is a chance to get a potential multi-time All-Star player on a team with Jaylen [Brown] and [Jayson] Tatum.”
That would be worth thinking about, even if it is unlikely.
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) October 20, 2020
Problem is, though, that this year’s draft is widely considered a crapshoot and there is no sure-shot All-Star at any point in the draft, even No. 2. LaMelo Ball? James Wiseman? Anthony Edwards? Obi Toppin? It is not like a Kevin Durant is lingering there.
Marcus Smart: ‘Heart & Soul of the Team’
Of course, as Simmons points out, the chances are slim the Celtics will trade Smart anyway. He has been a guy about whom team president Danny Ainge, speaking at this time last year, said, “Marcus is a terrific player. He’s out there to guard everybody. He always has and he always will. That’s his nature. He loves that challenge of guarding the stars of the other teams and trying to get inside their head. That’s why he is the heart and soul of the team.”
Smart does have his deficiencies and his detractors, too. He is a streaky shooter and is, sometimes, a too-willing shooter, forcing up bad perimeter shots rather than collecting himself and getting the ball to the Celtics’ offensive stars. Smart averaged a career-high 12.9 points with 4.9 assists this season, but shot a woeful 37.5% this season and was 34.7% from the 3-point line.
He had some big games as a 3-point shooter in the playoffs but, overall, shot 33.3% from the arc—taking a whopping 7.2 attempts per game from distance.
Smart also got heated during the postseason, with what was reported as a verbal altercation between he and Jaylen Brown following Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Heat. The Celtics brushed that incident off, but it did reinforce the reputation (unfair, at times) Smart has for being unable to keep his emotions in check.
Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown had a heated exchange after Game 2, with teammates diffusing the situation before any possible physical altercation.
Smart also had in-game verbal exchanges with assistant coaches.@ShamsCharania takes you inside the Celtics' heated locker room ⤵️
— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) September 18, 2020
Finances MIght Make Celtics Look at Marcus Smart Trade
Poor 3-point shooting and an intense approach to the game would not be the reason the Celtics might have to consider moving Smart, though. That reason goes back to the team’s financial picture, which will get cloudy very quickly.
The Celtics have been able to add big-salary stars Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward in the past three years because their two top offensive players, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, are still on their rookie contracts. There was flexibility to move for those players as long as the Celtics were getting relatively cheap labor from Tatum and Brown.
That is changing, though. Brown’s new contract extension will kick in for the upcoming season and Tatum is likely to sign a max deal as soon as he is able to do so. With Walker on the books and with the possibility of keeping Hayward around after his contract runs up after next season, the Celtics will have a suddenly ballooning payroll.
Add the projections that the NBA’s payrolls will shrink significantly (between $3 million and $12 million according to one report) next season and the situation will be dire. There are few ways for the Celtics to shed payroll quickly.
But that is where a Smart deal comes in. If the Celtics could move Smart without taking on new salary—as the Warriors and a handful of others could do—Boston would be out of the $13 million it owes him next year and the $14 million for the year after that.
It is not ideal to trade your team’s heart and soul. But it is something the Celtics might have to consider.