The Boston Celtics Can’t Trade Marcus Smart Yet, But It’s No Longer Unthinkable

After dropping an 19-point lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, the Boston Celtics record dropped to 6-7, putting them in tenth place in the Eastern Conference. Should the team continue to hover around .500, it wouldn’t be surprising if recently appointed team president Brad Stevens attempted to pull off a trade. If so, Marcus Smart—the team’s longest-tenured player—might not be as untouchable as he once appeared. When he can be traded, that is.

Earlier this month, there were reports that the Philadelphia 76ers were looking into acquiring Jaylen Brown for tarnished one-time top overall draft pick Ben Simmons. Even with the All-Star currently unavailable to play thanks to a hamstring injury, Boston wasn’t about to make that swap for any reason.

However, in the subsequent conversation, some suggested a counteroffer that packaged Smart, additional players and potential draft picks. While it won’t happen any time soon, it’s possible that the team might not hang up on teams inquiring about his future availability.

Smart, of course, is something of a polarizing figure: for all those who “love and trust” him, there is a segment of fans who see him as an unreliable agent of chaos. He’s also had a rough regular season after essentially being handed the starting point guard spot during the summer. 

Earlier this month he called out both Brown and Jayson Tatum for not sharing the ball. He then followed it up by having a mental lapse that prevented the Celtics from pulling off a comeback over the Dallas Mavericks. It’s also clear that he’s struggling so far in this early season and he didn’t help his case by scoring just two points in Cleveland.

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Now, things change quickly in the NBA. Shortly after Smart’s comments, a narrative emearged that the Celtics had rediscovered their defensive identity after a subsequent (much-ballyhooed) team meeting. The Celtics went 4-1 in their next five games before running aground against the Cavaliers last night.

The next controversy is always just around the corner for Smart, the agreed-upon emotional leader of the Celtics whose all-out style of play continues to confound analysis. It’s hard to quantify the edge he brings defensively even though it’s easy to keep track of his missed three-pointers and occasional playmaking brain freezes. 

It wouldn’t be easy for the Celtics to move Smart, however, thanks to the four-year, $77 million contract extension they handed him earlier this year. If Smart were an expiring contract or making a more reasonable salary, he’d probably be a more attractive acquisition. As it is, a team will most likely have to actively want Smart, warts and all, if they are willing to commit to a player until the 2025-26 season.

Oh, also—and maybe that last paragraph should have led with this—because of that extension, Smart cannot be traded until mid-January. Even if you do not love or trust him, Smart is going to be with the Celtics for the next two months.

The good news is that this gives the team some time to figure out what they have in Dennis Schröder. The guard, who the Celtics acquired on the cheap after a disastrous free agency stint, has given them both highlights and lowlights this past week. Despite being a purer point guard than Smart, Schröder has been struggling with ball security.

Schröder committed eight turnovers against the Toronto Raptors, six during his otherwise eye-opening 38-point performance against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday and then added four more the next night against the Cavs. He’s not quite making the case that he should remain a starter when (if?) the team becomes fully healthy, which is probably good news for Smart.

The old line with Smart was that he always was a more valuable player for the Celtics than he was to any other team. Given his new coach, changing responsibilities and the team’s off-season roster moves, that might no longer be true. The next two months might end up determining whether or not he joins Brown and Jayson Tatum among the ranks of the untouchables.