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The Celtics Swing Big for Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis

Late Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before the NBA draft, notifications started popping up on phones, laptops, and televisions, alerting the basketball world of a trade. That in and of itself wasn’t the shocking part. It was a certainty that trades would begin to flow by now. Moreover, rumors of a trade between the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Washington Wizards had already been reported. 


The first iteration of the deal revolved around guard Malcolm Brogdon going to the Clippers, while Kristaps Porzingis would end up with the Celtics, and Marcus Morris would be sent to the Wizards. Fast forward to just before midnight Eastern time, and the Clippers had been cut out of the deal entirely. Then, one Marcus was switched out for another Marcus, and Tyus Jones magically became a Wizard. 


What and how things happened are still trickling out, but the move for the Celtics ends a nine-year-long partnership with Smart and ushers in a new third star to be paired next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It also opens up a void for a team that has already been operating in a leadership vacuum


The Celtics “Core” is No More


Once the smoke cleared, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the trade details confirmed that the Celtics would receive Porzingis, the 25th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, and a 2024 top-four protected first-round pick. In exchange, the Celtics sent Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, and the 35th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to the Wizards. 



The jarring part of the deal, and the one that’s getting most if not all of the attention, is that the Celtics parted ways with 2021-2022 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. To complete the three-team deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Celtics needed to include a sizable enough salary to take in Prozingis’s $36 million player option. That left only a few candidates;  Brogdon, Derrick White, Rob Williams, or Marcus Smart. 


All signs pointed to Brogdon being the sacrificial lamb in the lead-up to Wednesday. Insiders like Shams Charania of The Athletic and Wojnarowski were detailing the efforts by the Celtics to send Brogdon to another team like the Clippers or Phoenix Suns. What seemingly stopped the Brogdon deal from taking place was concerns about his injured forearm. Brogdon ended up tearing a ligament in his forearm which limited his effectiveness in the later stages of the playoffs. The severity of the injury and the recovery timeline reportedly made the Clippers back out late in the process.


The Good


The Boston Celtics enter the opening stages of the offseason with a brand new third star. Porzingis is coming off a career year in Washington, where he averaged 23 points, eight and a half rebounds, and nearly three assists per game while playing 65 games. The 27-year-old Latvian is considerably younger than Al Horford, who turns 37 next season. Horfords play, and durability was nothing short of impressive last year, but the Celtics seem to be betting that won’t always be the case. 


Labeling Porzingis as Horford or Robert Williams, however, insurance is too reductive. Porzingis is skilled enough to be the lead scorer on a given night. The seven-footer can space the floor and also do traditional big-man post-ups. Highlighting those post-touches, Porzingis averages about 1.18 points per possession on post-ups, placing him in the top-20 rankings of post-scoring efficiency according to data from  That piece of the Porzingis pie is why the Celtics ultimately decided to bring him in.


The Bad


Diversifying their offensive profile does come at a cost. Losing Smart will have its effects. Most evidently in the places that box scores don’t measure. His willingness to sacrifice his body for a loose ball or a charge was more than impactful. Those plays led to countless momentum swings and comebacks.

Smart was the emotional thermostat for the Celtics. When things needed to be ratcheted up, he was the one who did it. When players needed to be called out, he was the one who spoke up. Sure, he had a flare for the dramatic (flopping, etc.), but he also was a gamer. According to Michael Pina of The Ringer, during his nearly decade-long stint with the Celtics, Smart never had a negative net rating. The Celtics will miss his attitude and grit but also his desire to win at all costs. 



Smart had developed from more than just a staunch defender. He was the leading playmaker for the Celtics, and that won’t be easily replaced. Smart had built strong connections on the court with teammates like Brown and Tatum. He developed signals with just eye movements that would unlock passing lanes. In his last four seasons in Boston, Smart served as the starting point guard and averaged 12.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on 40/33% shooting splits, according to BastketballReference. How the Boston Celtics decided to replace Smart’s playmaking will most likely come at another cost, either with a trade or through free agency. 


The Sad


Sure, he was frustrating sometimes. Okay, a lot of times. But ask any Celtics fan, and they would tell you they are fine with being frustrated with Marcus Smart. Why’s that?  Because he was theirs.


Smart is a beloved figure in Boston. Notice how it says figure and not just player. That’s purposeful. Over the nine years Smart spent playing in the green and white, he made his presence known in the city. Not the tallest basketball player by any means, but Smart was easily recognizable for a number of reasons. He always came sporting an interesting hair-do (over the last two seasons, Smart’s hair was dyed green to honor his late mother). His year-to-year smile lit up a room and was infectious. Lastly, his voice was commanding. The coaches, players, and fans all listened when he spoke.


Those qualities made Marcus Smart a special player for the Celtics. It will likely be the same reason he is a special player for the Grizzlies. How extracting that presence affects the Celtics long-term is unknowable. But in the short-term, just a day or two without him on the team, it feels like the identity of the organization has been stripped away.


Matt Strout is a contributor to Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. You can catch Matt frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96 


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