The Celtics frequently sought big splashes during Marcus Smart’s career in Boston, and as the team’s young, talented defensive anchor, he was often at the center of trade rumors. Smart usually would brush them off, and whenever the smoke cleared, he found himself back with the Celtics, helping guide a team that has been one of the NBA’s most consistent powers over the past decade.
This offseason figured to be calm and uneventful for Smart. The 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year helped guide the Celtics to a Finals berth last year and nearly did it again this past season. When word spread that the team wanted to clear up congestion in the backcourt, Malcolm Brogdon and Payton Pritchard were the most logical candidates to depart.
And on Wednesday afternoon, league sources said, the Celtics were close to finalizing a three-team deal that would send Brogdon to the Clippers and bring Wizards big man Kristaps Porzingis to Boston. But concerns about the forearm strain that limited Brogdon during the playoffs ultimately led Los Angeles to back out.
With Porzingis’s midnight deadline to opt into his $36 million player option for next season looming — a necessary step to allow them to complete a deal for him — the Celtics were forced to decide quickly.
A league source said the framework for a secondary plan that would send Smart to the Grizzlies in a three-team deal had been formulated earlier in the day as a backup. Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens then chose to act on it.
Just like that, Smart — the most tenured Celtic, the sixth pick in the 2014 draft, the backbone of this franchise — was gone. According to league sources, Smart reacted to the news with disbelief.
“A gut punch,” said one source close to the point guard. “Complete shock.”
Smart joined a brief call with his closest confidants late Wednesday night, sources said, and expressed hurt that out of all the guards on the roster, the Celtics decided to part ways with him. He had come so far with the franchise and was determined to hang its first championship banner since 2008. He believed they were so close.
But as frustration began to swell, sources said, Smart quickly reset. He reminded those close to him that as personal as it might feel, and as strong as his ties to the organization seem, this is ultimately a business. And this is sometimes how things go.
Smart met with the Grizzlies when he was a restricted free agent in July 2018. He ultimately re-signed with the Celtics, but Memphis’s interest in him never waned. Sources said the Grizzlies attempted to trade for Smart multiple times over the years.
Now they have added him to a team that finished second in the Western Conference this past season. With star point guard Ja Morant facing a 25-game suspension to start the year for brandishing firearms in social media videos, Smart will likely be tasked with conducting the Grizzlies offense for the first few months next season. Sources close to Smart believe it will be a situation in which he can thrive, and that his winning mentality will give Memphis a boost.
But the sources also stressed that, at the moment, it’s still a lot for Smart to process.
“Marcus loves Boston,” one source said. “He thought he was going to retire there. He wanted to retire there.”
Last month, Smart sat at the dais following the Celtics’ Game 7 loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, and his frustration about the defeat was offset by optimism about what appeared to be a bright future with this franchise.
He said he planned to spend the offseason working on his jump shot and finding new ways to help make his teammates better. He was determined to figure out what it would take to bring this city another championship.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, a lot of us have,” Smart said then. “And that’s the beauty of it. We get another chance.”
Read more about the Celtics trading Marcus Smart
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- Brad Stevens decided running it back wasn’t the move, so the Celtics struck first and acquired Kristaps Porzingis
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