Celtics trade Smart for Porzingis, solving none of their actual issues

The Boston Celtics and Kristaps Porzingis relationship nearly ended before it ever officially began.

Bostonappeared to be closing in on a three-team trade to land Kristaps Porziņģis earlier in the day, but the initial framework of that deal fell apart, leaving the Boston front office scrambling to stitch the idea back together.

The initial trade that included Malcom Brogdon heading to the Clippers fell threw hours after it was reported. Shortly before midnight, the Celtics netted Porziņģis but did so in a far different deal than the one they initially agreed upon.

As part of a three-team trade, league sources said, the Celtics will send out Marcus Smart to Memphis plus Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala and the 35th pick in Thursday night’s draft to Washington. The Celtics will acquire Porziņģis from the Wizards, plus the 25th pick in this year’s draft and the Golden State Warriors’ first-round pick in next year’s draft from Memphis. The Grizzlies will send Tyus Jones to Washington in the deal, which will go down as a Celtics stunner.

The heart and soul of the Celtics for the past decade, Marcus Smart was ripped from the heart of Celtics fans overnight, and my only question is why?

The Celtics have been in the Conference Finals seemingly every year since 2018. The core of Tatum, Brown and Smart have been there for every playoff run. Having not accomplishing the ultimate goal of a championship, this group needed a bit of a shake up.

But I’m not certain Smart was the smart choice.

Losing Smart won’t just be a big deal on the court, but also in the locker room. He brought a toughness to the Celtics. He became a solid point guard and one of the team’s best passers. White should slide over to starting point guard now. He’s capable of that, but Smart’s absence will be felt on both ends of the floor. As impactful as his defense was, his court vision could be what the Celtics miss most. Or his attitude, both on and off the court. He always brought energy. Every day, for nine straight years, Smart’s voice could be heard. It was often louder than any other.

This is a classic NBA trade. I like the trade on paper. The Celtics get a versatile big who can shoot and protect the rim, while having a combination of Derrick White and Malcom Brogdon to accumulate the production Smart’s absence leaves.

But the Celtics didn’t really address their biggest need, or solve any of their current issues.

Tatum and Brown are redundant. It is often a your turn, my turn scenario that haunts all offensive rhythm.

Boston needed a true point guard who can run the show and create for everyone, not just have 2 isolation players surrounded by average shooters.

Instead they shipped out their best playmaker in favor of a 7’3 spot up shooter. That is a tough sell.

The trade involved Porziņģis opting into the final year of his contract at $36 million. Without a contract extension, which could still be possible here, the Celtics would be taking a risk acquiring a player entering the final season of his contract with no assurances he would stay long term.

3. Porziņģis will be eligible for a two-year, $77 million extension beginning July 6. If he does agree to such a deal, that would present a different set of questions for the Celtics. The new collective bargaining agreement, with more roster-building restrictions for the most expensive teams, should make it more difficult for teams to hold onto multiple big-money contracts. The organization could run into severe difficulties maintaining a reasonable supporting cast with so much money committed to Brown, who could sign a supermax extension in Boston this summer; Tatum, who will be eligible to sign one next summer; and Porziņģis, whose next contract won’t be cheap.

Building around that trio would set up the Celtics to make other, significant financial decisions at some point in the near future. That reality could very well cost them restricted free agent Grant Williams this offseason. It’s difficult to come up with a way for them to afford the price of his next contract while staying under the second apron, which comes with serious roster-building restrictions in the new collective bargaining agreement.

Being that hard capped while still not having a true point guard and some glaring needs is going to make progressing this team very difficult going forward.

And if Porzingis is simply a one year rental, it makes losing the heart of your team even more painful unless they capture a ring this season.

Another lens to view this from is how healthy is Brogdon? With Smart gone, the Sixth Man of the Year’s availability will only become more important – and now there are additional questions about Brogdon after the Clippers, desperate for a point guard, balked at trading for him. Regardless of Brogdon’s health, Payton Pritchard could end up one of the trade’s winners. He should be lined up for a more consistent role. Pritchard is a capable outside shooter, but hasn’t proven he can make plays off the bounce or orchestrate an offense. The Celtics downgraded the talent in their backcourt to boost their frontcourt here. They believe Pritchard is capable of more regular minutes, though.

Porziņģis’ injury history is long and troubling. He tore an ACL in 2018. He tore a meniscus in 2020. He has played an average of 54 games over the past four regular seasons after missing the entire 2018-19 campaign to recover from the torn ACL. Even when accounting for the shortened seasons during COVID-19, he has missed significant time consistently. He’s just 27 though and coming off his healthiest season in a while. Maybe he has turned a corner physically, but a frontcourt with him, Robert Williams and the aging Horford will have availability concerns.

The initial framework of the trade would have qualified as a blockbuster. It collapsed into a what-if. The final version of the trade ended a Celtics era.

Smart, who was the longest-tenured Boston player, entered the organization when Rajon Rondo was the star point guard and Brad Stevens was in his second year as a head coach. For nine years, Smart saw the team shift around him. The Celtics acquired Isaiah Thomas, then Kyrie Irving. They drafted Brown, then Tatum. Al Horford joined the Celtics, left, then came back again. Stevens stopped coaching to take Danny Ainge’s job atop the front office.

Boston emerged as a constant threat in the Eastern Conference, reaching the Conference Finals five times and breaking through to the Finals once. Smart became one of the most beloved Celtics players. He became one of the most criticized Celtics players. He never won a title in Boston, but racked up a Defensive Player of the Year award, three appearances on the First Team All-Defense and a lifetime supply of irritated opponents.

No recent Celtics player had more heart than Smart. The impact of his departure will be significant, but it’s tough to argue against a trade that delivered Boston two first-round picks and potentially a third star.

On paper it looks good, but as we know sports are not played on paper. Health and chemistry will dictate the outcome of this trade.

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