The Boston Celtics are at the center of NBA trade rumors. A possible Marcus Smart trade is being debated once again.
Smart’s salary is the most tradeable on the team. Having used rather than dealt a raft of picks, Danny Ainge is no longer blessed with excess assets. If the Celtics want to make a major trade before the deadline, Smart is bound to be mentioned in trade talks.
The 2014 draftee has always been thought of as untouchable. Maybe that status remains. With the Celtics only two games above .500 after a four-game winning streak, though, this could be the time for something bold from Boston. Ainge hasn’t made a midseason trade in six years, but it’s surely time for that to change.
Boston can excuse their poor performances this year. Jayson Tatum missed time and has struggled with conditioning. Smart has been out. Kemba Walker has been, to put it kindly, inconsistent. Ainge can just wait and see how this team looks fully healthy. A Marcus Smart trade does not necessarily solve anything.
Celtics need another piece
The trouble for Ainge, though, is that the Celtics need another reliable above-average player. Assuming Walker gets back to his best, their top four is more than solid. It’s beyond that where they hit problems.
None of the recent draft picks have made a leap outside of Robert Williams, who has his own long-running health issues. Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague have underwhelmed. Daniel Theis is solid enough, but there is a Gordon Hayward sized hole on this roster.
Using the record-breaking TPE makes the most sense in Ainge’s search for an upgrade. Doing so, though, is only feasible if other teams are interested in the remaining picks Boston has. Outside of Smart, Ainge has a very limited number of trade assets. Even Walker is probably not a positive trade piece at this point.
Is packaging Smart with picks and a couple of young players their best path to a difference-maker? How good does the incoming player need to be for such a trade to make sense?
These are two questions which could decide the Celtics’ short and long-term future. Boston has a pair of two-way stars. That’s what every franchise dreams of. Smart, as is so often noted, is the heartbeat of the team, but with such a tradeable contract, he also represents a dilemma for a Celtics front office which needs to enhance this roster.
Does a Smart trade do enough?
Smart’s value is high. He’s on under $13 million a year, playing elite defense and has come on dramatically as a shooter and playmaker. For the Celtics, though, is value is arguably higher for the intangibles than it would be in a trade package.
Putting Smart with Carsen Edwards, picks and Thompson doesn’t get an All-Star. It gets another player of Smart’s level. While that’s exactly what Boston needs, it obviously doesn’t help if they have to give up Smart in a trade.
For instance, Aaron Gordon has long been labelled as an ideal trade target. There’s no denying he’s a great fit. Trading Smart would be an overpay, as it would be for Nikola Vucevic or Jerami Grant, two players who have been linked with Boston of late.
Smart’s importance to the Celtics far outweighs any probable trade return. Limited assets and clear needs make a trade a necessity for the Celtics, but trading Smart is unlikely to make them better in 2021 or beyond.
Ainge does not have an easy job, and he’s made some mistakes over the last couple of years. Refusing to trade Smart, however, is an entirely justified position.
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