Now that the Celtics have their head coach, they can focus on the other important decisions they have to make this offseason. Perhaps at the top of the list is what to do with Marcus Smart. With Smart set to be a free agent after next season, the Celtics need to decide now if he’s in their future plans. If the answer is no (whether because of fit or money), they need to explore what options are available to them on the trade market. After letting numerous players walk in free agency for nothing, Boston can’t afford to do the same with Smart.
The issue for Brad Stevens and company is that Smart is coming off one of his worst seasons as a pro. After making an All-Defensive team in each of his last two seasons, Smart missed out on the honor this year. Smart also missed 24 games this season due to a left calf tear, the second most of his career. When he was on the floor, Smart didn’t perform at the same level either. After posting the two highest marks of his career in steals per game and three point percentage over the last two years, both of those numbers dropped considerably.
Marcus Smart steals per game:
- 2018-19 – 1.8
- 2019-20 – 1.7
- 2020-21 – 1.5
Marcus Smart three-point percentage:
2018-19 – 36.4%
2019-20 – 34.7%
2020-21 – 33.0%
While simplistic, those two stats encapsulate who the Celtics need Smart to be and the fact they both went down last year and then both went down again this year is disconcerting. Due to both factors, his value has taken a serious hit. So, what could the Celtics realistically expect in return for Smart? Here are four targets for the team to inquire about this summer:
Of all the players Boston could potentially target in return for Smart, Warren has the highest ceiling. However, like Smart, Warren’s value took a big hit this season as well. After his stellar performance in the NBA bubble, Warren underwent season-ending foot surgery to repair a stress fracture in March and only played a total of four games this season. If Indiana has serious concerns about Warren’s long-term health and doesn’t have interest in risking his value taking an even larger hit upon his return, a deal could make sense.
On the surface, it would appear there are too many red flags on both sides for these two teams to come to any sort of agreement, but Warren’s name popped up a few times last year in the rumors surrounding the failed sign-and-trade that would’ve sent Gordon Hayward to the Pacers. So, perhaps the Celtics will want to take on the risk that comes along with Warren’s rehab and the Pacers will be fine taking on Smart’s expiring contract. Its a real “you take my problem, I’ll take on yours” situation.
The Celtics reportedly attempted to deal for Nance at the March 25th trade deadline according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Unfortunately, Cleveland wasn’t interested, but perhaps the rumors that they’re looking to move on from Colin Sexton this offseason will open up the need for a guard. Nance could play the four for Boston and slide Brown and Tatum up to the two and three, where they thrived next to Gordon Hayward. Nance’s salary is structured to go down next season and the season after that, making him a cost controlled asset that any front office would salivate over. He’s not a perfect player by any means, missing more games (37) than Smart did last year, but the other factors make him an intriguing potential target.
Covington’s contract is also set to expire after next season, but that would certainly make it easier for Portland to accept the fact that the same is true of Smart. If the rumored deal that would send Ben Simmons to Portland and CJ McCollum to Philadelphia comes to fruition, turning the deal into a three-team trade that also incorporates Smart and Covington makes a lot of sense. It would give Portland an immediate replacement for McCollum at guard and a two-headed monster defensively with Simmons and Smart.
Covington isn’t quite the defender Smart is, but is a significantly better shooter and is also slightly older. While a player being older isn’t usually a positive, Boston has been in need of a veteran presence and Covington could be part of the answer along with the return of Al Horford. Smart has also often been criticized for his inability to accept a lesser role. Some of that likely stems from the fact that Smart came into the league as a high draft pick. Conversely, Covington entered the league as an undrafted player and has been eagerly willing to accept being a role player throughout his career. Smart is clearly a superior player, but Covington’s fit as a complimentary piece next to Tatum and Brown may be a bit cleaner than Smart’s.
Boston had interest in Bertans at the trade deadline a few years ago, but the team was reportedly unwilling to part with the Wizards asking price of two first round picks to complete the deal. Danny Ainge noted at his retirement press conference last month that Brad Stevens didn’t always agree with all the moves the team made while he was in his role as the head coach (or didn’t make) and was sure to point out that now Stevens will get the chance to call those shots. Maybe this was one of those moves.
Bertans, 28, is under contract for three more seasons with a player option after that and shoots over 40% from three for his career. It would be a very clear defense for offense trade, which on the surface of things is the opposite of what the Celtics need, but their defensive issues are considered to be more about effort than talent. With Brown, Tatum, Williams, and Horford, the Celtics should have the necessary defensive talent to slow teams down enough to win many games behind a high fire power offense. After all, it feels like offense is significantly more important than defense in today’s NBA.
It may be hard for Celtics fans to swallow such a tame return for a player as beloved as Smart. There’s always a chance Stevens could look to package Smart in a larger deal for a much better player, but if the Celtics are looking for a one-for-one swap in exchange for their longest tenure player, these are the names they’re likely going to have to consider.
Photo: (Brian Babineau – NBAE via Getty Images)
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