Happy New Year! We’re here in 2022 and the majority of the roster is currently (at least as I type this Thursday afternoon) largely out of COVID protocols and off the injury list. We’ll see how long that lasts, but the optimist in me wants to believe, so let’s roll with it for now.
The caveats and excuses (depending on your viewpoint) have always pointed back to a lack of a full roster to evaluate going forward. A difficult December schedule made for a double whammy recently as well.
January, on the other hand, is a wide open land of opportunity with sub .500 opponents galore, which leads me to the main point here. The Celtics very much should be able to string together a healthy number of wins this month, even if they are missing a normal amount of players (forgive the vagueness of that statement as I don’t really know what normal is anymore).
I say that they “should” based on this prevailing notion that I have that this team should be better than they have been playing. The ultra scientific method I used to determine this is a formula of (Evaluation + Historical Stats + Emotional Investment)/Gut Feel = Educated Hopefulness. However, every time the team collapses in the 4th quarter, I scratch my head, check my spreadsheets, and wonder if I should have paid more attention in Algebra class.
So what does all of this have to do with my melodramatic title referencing Marcus Smart? Call it a process of elimination. If the Celtics continue to struggle, they will very logically look at the roster and try to determine what needs to change. If the team was “close” to competing, they could look at making changes around the edges and smaller tweaks to the roster. The struggles that have endured hint that larger changes could be necessary.
So if you start at the top of the roster, I think you can immediately rule out trading Jayson Tatum. If you want to argue that point, feel free, but I frankly don’t care to. For me, that’s a given. I’m also very high on Jaylen Brown and I believe in their ability to play together and off each other in the long run. Bottom line is that I would prefer to nuke the whole roster around them before I would think about breaking them up. Granted, we can’t always get what we want and if trading Jaylen legitimately brought back the pieces that made us a better team long run, I’d at least entertain that idea. Still, the early rumblings are that the Celtics want to stick with Tatum and Brown and that’s fine by me.
Which brings me to Marcus Smart. Few love Marcus more than I do. He’s Mr. Winning Plays and he has a connection to this city that only a select few are ever able to achieve. I feel very strongly that he can be a starter on a championship team and I still have visions of him making just the right plays to push a team over the top to win a title. But will that be the Celtics? Or will the team decide that they have to use Smart as a chip to make a real shake-up trade?
There are other options of course. The team has TPEs, their own draft picks, young players, and matchable salaries to cobble together in potential trade packages. But what that buys you is anyone’s guess. I have a feeling that Smart (plus other pieces) could return a significant enough player that would make the Celtics think long and hard about moving on from a fan favorite.
Then again, the Celtics could turn things around this month and prove that with sustained health and a little more time on the court together, this mix of players can mesh and find the right combinations. Can they show enough by the deadline to keep Brad Stevens from breaking up the band? I’ll be wearing my Winning Plays t-shirt and hoping against hope that they can.