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Life Without Smart

Overview


For the past 9 years, Marcus Smart has had one of the most Love-Hate relationships in Celtics history. On Thursday, the Celtics took part in a 3-way trade that sent Marcus Smart to the Grizzlies while acquiring Kristaps Porzingis from the Wizards. The three teams dealt various draft picks along with the key players and the Celtics also dealt Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala to the Wizards.

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This will likely be the biggest move made this offseason for the Celtics, bringing in a long-needed big man like Porzingis will fill a much needed role of a 7-foot scorer. Porzingis had the best season of his career last year in Washington, averaging 23.2, 8.5 and 2.7. He shot 50% from the field and 38.5% from three-point range. He also played 65 games, which is by far the most he's played in the last 6 years, a good sign of his health heading into his age-28 season.


Benefits


The Celtics presumed starting five will be Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Kristaps Porzingis and Robert Williams. Key bench players will be Derrick White, Grant Williams, Al Horford, and Payton Pritchard. The nine-man-deep roster is one of the deepest in talent in the league.


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Not only is the roster incredibly deep, but after the Smart-Porzingis trade, the Celtics are one of the biggest rosters in the league with an average height for their starters of 6 feet and 8.4 inches. The Celtics scored 117.9 ppg last season while giving up 111.4 ppg to opponents, and after trading Smart, Gallinari and Muscala for Porzingis should project to scoring about 122 ppg and giving up 117 ppg.


The last time the Celtics had a 7-footer who could score at Porzingis' level was Kevin Garnett in 2012. With Porzingis on the court the Celtics automatically become one of if not the most dangerous offensive teams in the league when healthy. The Celtics made the 2nd most 3PT field goals last season with the 6th best accuracy on those shots, establishing themselves as one of the best shooting teams. While Smart was incredible in certain aspects of the game, shooting was never one of them and a Porzingis swap will undoubtedly improve this strength for the team. The big man made over 2 3Pters a game on 39% accuracy and has improved his numbers for three seasons straight.


The best benefit of this trade will be spacing. For the last two season, Al Horford has been the stretch-4 the Celtics have relied on and has done a good job at it. He's been able to stretch the opponents' interior to the corner and hit jump shots in closeouts effectively. With Porzingis, it's safe to presume improvements in every aspect of this from the 23ppg scorer. The forward trio of Brown, Tatum and Porzingis will truly be the toughest group to guard in the entire league.


Risks


While this trade makes sense for extra offensive production, there are three major risks the Celtics are taking. The first is the injury possibility we already discussed. While Porzingis made 65 starts last year, he has averaged only 44 games per season in the last 6 years, while Smart has averaged over 62 games per season in the same span. The second risk is the loss in defensive ability. Smart has been one of the best defenders in the league since his rookie year, showcased by becoming the first guard in 26 years to become DPOY last season. The third risk is the uncertainty of Porzingis' contract. Kristaps exercised his player option for the 2023-24 season at $36 million and is set to become a free agent after just one year.


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Porzingis played 65 games for the Wizards last year which is a great sign, but one good season does not a healthy player make. It was the first season in the last 4 years he played more than 43 games. While the upside of Porzingis when healthy is remarkable and will make this trade worth it, if the 7-foot-3 forward misses time due to injury like he has several times in the past, the Celtics may realize they gave up their team captain for almost nothing.


Sending Smart to Memphis is a blow for the Celtics, losing their best defender and longest-tenured player to that point. Smart's value in toughness and in the locker room cannot be understated but the team does have other guards like Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Payton Pritchard who will have the chance to fill in the role. However, even though this group of above-average role playing guards is stacked, none of them can touch what Smart did on the defensive end. His energy on the back half of the court and willingness to put his body on the line is something only seen by a few guards and players in general over the past few decades. Porzingis has an occurring BPG stat of about 1.6 per season, but even that won't make up for Smart's departure.


Making this kind of a deal for a Porzingis rental is very risky. The team already had Jaylen Brown's contract ending after this season and will have to negotiate with their new star as well. With a projected salary of $72 million a year to keep both forwards past this season and Tatum's extension only 2 years away assuming he takes his player option next year, the Celtics will only be able to keep all three if they strip the rest of their roster clean in the meantime. This means Porzingis will likely hit free agency this summer to make room for Brown and Tatum. While Porzingis may be the final piece needed for the Celtics to finally win a championship this team has been so close to for the last four seasons, is it worth hindering their future for one non-guaranteed rental year of an injury-prone superstar?


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Make sure to stay tuned as we continue coverage of the Boston Celtics and the 2023-24 NBA Season all year long.


-Z.D.

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