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The Departed: what the new-look Celtics need to replace with the losses of Smart, Williams(s)

Marcus Smart, Grant Williams, and Robert Williams III have all moved on from Boston, leaving some voids for the stars to fill.

Memphis Grizzlies v Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart, Grant Williams, Robert Williams III. Boston Celtics
Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

“When it happened, I didn’t really have anything to say,” Jaylen Brown said at Media Day on Monday, when prompted on learning that Marcus Smart had been traded. “I was kinda like, we was in limbo for a couple of days. I played with [Marcus] Smart for the majority of my career. Smart is — no matter what jersey he has on that’s my brother. I feel the same way about Rob [Williams III].”

After what was a wild summer, the Celtics will enter the 2023-24 campaign without half of their top-8 players from last spring’s playoff rotation. Smart, Rob, Grant Williams, and Malcolm Brogdon will be wearing green no more.

Boston’s players haven’t had a ton of time to sit with the exits of Williams III and Brogdon, who were traded yesterday in exchange for Jrue Holiday.

“Shocked. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” said Al Horford on learning that Rob had been dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers. “So grateful to have been able to play with him. He’s a great guy.”

The move came as somewhat of a surprise, though the Cs had been linked to Holiday as soon as news broke that the Milwaukee Bucks had sent him to Portland in exchange for Damian Lillard on Wednesday.

“Obviously it’s some big news... it was tough to see Malcolm and Rob leave. They’re both great people and great players. So, it’s tough to see them leave,” Derrick White explained. “Same for Smart, it was tough, but everyone we’ve added, everyone we’ve brought in — I”m excited about it.”

The addition of Holiday is for sure just that: exciting. Last season, he was named to his second All-Star team while playing for the Bucks. He averaged 19.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 47.9% from the field and 38.4% from distance.

Those numbers were enough to force Brad Stevens to make — what he described as — some “hard” phone calls.

“Those are the hardest phone calls,” he told reporters. “It was such a pleasure to watch Rob grow. He had a great attitude. He was a great teammate and got a lot better. That was hard. That was really hard.”

Williams’ growth was not only a pleasure for Stevens, but also for Celtics fans who watched him for five seasons. He went from being an undisciplined athletic freak to a key cog in a top-rated defense and one of the best roll men in the NBA on the opposite end.

Rob was able to be his best when he was starting games for Boston. In the 2021-22 campaign, he averaged 10 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest across 61 starts. He wasn’t really able to recapture that last year, after undergoing a procedure on his right knee.

There’s hope that Kristaps Porzingis will be able to replace a lot of what Williams brought to the table when at his best. The Latvian has the ability to thrive as a role man, protect the rim, and adds the ability to stretch the floor.

As for Grant Williams, he wasn’t as prominent of a talking point throughout the course of the day. He spent his availability at Dallas Mavericks media day flexing on the beat writers in his new home last Friday.

Despite Williams’ expertise in tomfoolery, Brown did allude to the leadership that he provided while with the Celtics. No. 7 said that he and Jayson Tatum would have to take on a more vociferous role now that Williams, Smart and Blake Griffin are no longer with the team.

Smart is someone who stuck out as a leader during his nine-year tenure in Boston. His gritty play and passion for the franchise won the fanbase over. His exit sent shockwaves throughout the Celtics community, with many left emotional, yet understanding of the need to add Porzingis.

Head coach Joe Mazzulla feels as if it’s a tall task to replace the presence that he had within the Celtics locker room for many years before he headed to the Memphis Grizzlies.

“Everyone’s a part of it... It’s not just on one person… There’s a communication piece and a reciprocal piece of responding to the communication… Jrue’s a part of it, but so is Jayson, so is Jaylen, so is Al. [etc.],” he told reporters.

The ascension of Brown and Tatum into more prominent leadership roles is something that Celtics fans have been clamoring for years. Now they have a real responsibility to step into those types of positions as Boston looks to hang Banner 18 this season.

As for the departed, we’ll echo the message that Brown shared with the media on Monday.

“But, everybody has a journey and I wish those guys — and I know that those guys are going to do great in the places that they’re at. My reaction — your reaction is kind of like you’re not in belief at first, but then reality kind of settles in and you move forward.”

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