Long-time Boston Celtics point guard is officially trade eligible today (January 25).
Smart’s name has been thrown around in trade scuttlebutt for years, but with Boston’s struggles this season, those rumors have been amplified.
The Celtics inked Smart to a four-year, $77 million extension this past summer. He was then subsequently named the team’s starting point guard by head coach Ime Udoka. However, a .500 record mere weeks before the deadline reportedly has led Brad Stevens to be “extremely active in trade talks,” according to Heavy's Steve Bulpett.
Smart’s recent story about telling his teammates how much he loved them only fueled the idea that a trade could be inevitable. The guard has been connected to various teams in trade rumors.
Loose connections to the now Danny Ainge-led Utah Jazz were thrown around, as well as a note from Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report linking him to the Dallas Mavericks. Looking back as far as the offseason, Dane Moore even noted that the Minnesota Timberwolves were interested in Smart before they traded for Patrick Beverley.
But the one question that needs to be asked isn’t whether or not there’s a market for Smart, but if the Celtics should trade him in the first place. This is a question that has Celtics fans everywhere divided.
When Smart has played this season, the Celtics are 21-18. It’s not world-breaking, but being three games above .500 would put the C’s in a much better position than they’re in right now.
Everyone is quick to look at his shooting splits and proclaim that he’s having a terrible season, but water has begun to find its level. Smart is shooting 30.5 percent from deep. It’s obviously nowhere near league average, but it’s only about 1.4 percent worse than his career average. On top of that, he’s taking fewer threes than he has in nearly three years. Plus, his field goal percentage is nearly 20 percent higher than his career average.
That’s without even mentioning the more valuable parts of his game. Smart leads the team in assists (5.3) and assist points created (13.8). Plus, he’s been much better at making the extra pass this year, something he’s struggled with in the past.
And then there’s his defense. He’s tied for first in the league in steals (2.0) and top-25 in both defensive box plus/minus (1.6) and defensive win shares (1.9). He’s back to playing like his All-Defensive First Team self.
But it’s important to acknowledge the negatives, too. On a team that desperately needs shooting, Smart can’t provide that. And as great as his playmaking has been, Smart is still prone to making some bonehead plays. Whether that’s an ill-advised behind-the-back pass, a timely turnover late in the game, or rushing a shot when he could have kept the ball moving, he may be improving in this regard, but the mistakes he does make stand out.
Smart may not be the problem on this Celtics team, and based on their record when he plays, he’s even helping them win some games. But based on the last two seasons, he also might not be the solution. Having Smart vs. not having Smart might not be the difference between winning a championship and not.
Plus, when looking at the trade chips Boston has, Smart is one of the best ones. Dennis Schroder is on an expiring contract, Al Horford makes a boatload of money, and none of their young guys have shown enough to garner any big-time offers.
But trading Smart “just to shake things up” is the wrong way to phrase it. If they were to trade Smart, it would be in order to ensure that the pieces around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown fit better. Trading any players just for the sake of trading them is never a solid plan.
Trading Smart should be done in order to complete one of three goals - adding shooting, adding playmaking, or adding a third star.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown need shooters around them to succeed. Maybe Stevens likes Duncan Robinson down in Miami or Bojan Bogdanovic out in Utah. Trading Smart in order to improve a different need of the team is a calculated move, but the C’s would then have to replenish the playmaking they’d be losing with Smart gone.
The same can be said about adding playmaking. If the team wants a better, pass-first point guard to pair with the Jays long-term, then trading Smart could be a pathway to do that. Look at Jalen Brunson in Dallas or Mike Conley in Utah.
Lastly, throwing Smart in a deal for a third star would likely be a necessity. The money would help match salaries and, as mentioned, he has the most value of all their tradable assets. Examples of this sort of trade include Domantas Sabonis in Indiana or De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento.
Regardless, trading Smart should be a means to improve the team, not just to make a change for the sake of it. If that trade is there, and Stevens believes it can help the team in the long run, make it. If the trade would simply be a sideways move, don’t.
Smart’s commitment to the Celtics is unwavering, but at the end of the day, basketball is a business. Trading Smart is only the correct decision if the right trade presents itself. It’s not a necessity but is most certainly is an option.