It had been a Celtics rumor that was lingering going back to last winter, before the NBA season had ground to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Warriors, suffering through a wretched year with injuries to Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, were set to have one of the top picks in the NBA Draft. They had their eyes on a potential swap with Boston for a player they long coveted—Marcus Smart.
Nothing became of that chatter. But it lingered throughout the summer, came up again last month and on draft night, word of talks between the Celtics and Warriors cropped up again. Action Network’s Matt Moore noted that the two teams had talked about a deal that would send Smart to Golden State for the No. 2 pick, but that talks were cut off.
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The Warriors were dealt a separate blow, it should be noted, when it was revealed that star guard Klay Thompson would be evaluated for a “lower leg injury.” The injury was not on the same leg on which Thompson had ACL surgery last year, but was considered worrisome by the team, even as details about the situation were scant.
Rumors Involving Marcus Smart and the Warriors Go Back to February
Rumors of the Warriors’ interest in Smart have been around for a while. In September, NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh addressed the rumors, saying Smart would be, “a perfect player for the Golden State Warriors.”
Then, last month, 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.”
Finances Could Force Celtics to Consider Dealing Marcus Smart
The Celtics do not have an interest in trading Smart, a player who brings an edge and a toughness to an otherwise even-tempered roster.
Remember, team president Danny Ainge, speaking at this time last year, said of Smart: “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.”
But Smart has weaknesses that would cause the Celtics to at least field offers for him. 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.
But any deal involving Smart would be for financial reasons.
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.
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 at least considered.