News that president of basketball operations Brad Stevens had traded Smart to the Grizzlies in a three-team deal that brought Kristaps Porzingis to Boston broke just before midnight last Wednesday.
For those who crash into bed at a normal hour, word of the deal came early Thursday morning, a more effective wakeup call than the highest-octane cup of coffee.
Smart? Away? How can it be? His hair was green, and his heart may well have been too. He was by no means Celtic’s best player. But he embraced and enjoyed being Celtic more than any past or present peer, except maybe Isaiah Thomas.
Should his No. 36 dangle from the rafters one day (now there is a polarizing debate for another time), it won’t be because of his output, but largely because of his passion. He took being Celtic seriously, even if his methods were sometimes wrong. With some time and distance now, isn’t it patently absurd that he seemed to have influence coaching the team in the playoffs?
Still, he was loved here by many, and it was jarring to see Smart go so abruptly. The blunt reality took days to process. My Celtics-loving daughter, who sends me various Celtics links on at least three different social media apps daily, is stuck in the negotiation phase of basketball grief. She has rationalized the trade by deciding that it is only temporary and Smart will call the garden home again one day.
I nod and regal her with tales of Antoine Walker’s unexpected return in 2005. (“And fans were happy to have him back, and he even stopped being a mindless shooter for a while, and we called him CyberToine, and he said he took so many threes because there weren’t fours and …”) That’s not quite how Kevin Garnett intended it, but whatever is possible, right?
We may not have seen the last of Smart, the most beloved 10.6-points-per-game scorer in Celtics history. But we have that for now, and many, many valuable words have been spent on his departure. But it’s time now — probably past time — to think about what’s left … and the complicated cocktail of anticipation.
I am sure of this: The Celtics are a more purely talented team after the trade than they were before. The 7-foot-3 Porzingis is a distinctly skilled offensive player, a threat in the post and on pull-ups, and one who shot better from 3-point range this year (38.5 percent) than Jaylen Brown has in two years and Jayson Tatum for three.
Porzingis said he wants to “make things easier for those guys,” meaning Tatum and Brown.
I am excited to see how it will be applied. Tatum averaged 30.1 points last season, Brown 26.6 and Porzingis 23.2 as a Wizard. Someone in that trio isn’t going to score as much as he thinks.
When Danny Ainge added Garnett and Ray Allen to Paul Pierce to form the New Big Three, Allen made the most sacrifices, his scoring average dropping from 26.4 in his final season with the Sonics to 17.4 with the Celtics, and his shooting per game dipping from 21 to 13.5.
Pierce’s scoring average dropped from 25 to 19.6 and his shot attempts from 18.1 on the woeful 2006-07 Celtics to 13.5 on the ’08 champs, but he was still the big alpha at the end of games. Garnet? He cared less about touches than Kendrick Perkins, and that’s not hyperbole. He was the ultimate selfless superstar.
Among that trio, Tatum is a willing and improving passer, but he’s the one who should take the most shots, especially if he spends the offseason improving from the middle.
Porzingis can score from areas where the Celtics struggled last year, and hopefully Joe Mazzulla uses him that way instead of as another 3-point bomber.
Brown will likely remain the other option, but the Celtics would be so much better off if he returned a more willing and skilled passer. Hopefully he doesn’t take the super-max as a nine-figure validation that he’s done everything right and there’s no growth left.
Derrick White will thrive as the link, even if he’s not a true point guard, and it’s a shame so many have forgotten how effective and necessary Malcolm Brogdon was before he was cursed with Chris Sale’s health in the playoffs. But Smart’s departure means they need another guard, just like they did before this past season.
Payton Pritchard may be an efficient player, but anyone who sees him as a playmaker is projecting some Ernie DiGregorio skills onto him that just don’t exist. He is much better at creating his own shot than finding one for others.
I’m all over the idea of Patrick Beverley, a cheap fake Smart fax. I’m all for prying Monte Morris and his career 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio away from the Wizards.
What else? I want them to keep Grant Williams, but don’t expect them to. I am totally against hearing Robert Williams’ name in trade rumors. I hope that Blake Griffin, who handled the fall from stardom with grace and humor, somehow remains a good culture guy.
And regardless of what happens and how the rest of this offseason plays out, we’ll anticipate what’s to come with hope, and also that old familiar uneasiness.
That’s what the Celtics have done to us in this successful but still unfulfilled era. There’s a good chance that’s what they’ll continue to do to us even as they hang a banner for years to come. And yes, dear, that’s probably how it will be when Marcus Smart also comes back one day.