Per Ric Bucher
FOX Sports NBA Writer
Marcus Smart has become as important to the Boston Celtics’ identity as their mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun. So – if including Smart is key to signing 12-time All-Star Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets, should the Celtics do it?
To be clear, Smart is ingrained in the Clover psyche for more than his green-dyed dreads and dips to loose balls that evoke memories of another Celtics legend, Dave Cowens. Smart, the sixth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, spent his entire career in Boston and is the most starting player on the current roster. The Celtics have never failed to make the playoffs since he arrived. Boston faithful have seen him evolve from a volatile backup point guard to a slightly less volatile starter and vocal leader.
Her willingness to spotlight the team’s most-heralded — and highest-paid — stars, along with her defensive leadership, inspired the team’s turnaround last season from hopeful in late January to Eastern Conference champions. He was selected Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts, the first point guard since Gary Payton to receive the honor.
But the prize is Durant, four-time scoring champion. Ten-time All-NBA selection. Two-time Finals MVP. Arguably the player that could put them on top against the Golden State Warriors last June.
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While Smart was not part of the recent offer the Celtics made for Durant – an offer the Nets would have also rejected – no one was mentioned more often in conversations with rival GMs about what it would take for Durant, who requested a trade this month. past. to end up in Boston.
With the offer from forward Jaylen Brown, reserve point guard Derrick White and a future first-round pick seemingly not enough, the GMs – three from the Eastern Conference, three from the West – were given a simple question:
What makes a deal for KD, and would you do it?
The responses were far from uniform, but if there was one player who represented the tipping point, it was Smart.
“The Nets should ask him to be part of the deal,” said one of the Eastern Conference GMs. “Because Marcus just brings a different element. There’s risk, but with all the greats, there’s usually risk. And that’s not to say Marcus is great, but when he’s good, he’s really, really good.”
A second Eastern Conference GM agreed.
“I imagine Brooklyn wants three rotation guys,” he said. “Derrick White, Jaylen Brown is two. If there’s a third person, Brooklyn has every right to ask Marcus Smart. If you’re from Boston and you say, ‘This is too much,’ well then you’re not going to get the guy (Durant ).”
As much as they valued Durant, both GMs would.
“As long as Jayson isn’t in the deal, if you throw Jayson and KD any more, you have more than a fighting chance (of winning a title),” said the first GM.
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A third Eastern Conference GM believes the Nets would be making a mistake by switching Durant to a divisional rival, but if they did, they should walk away convinced they took something irreplaceable from them: Smart.
“I would have to bring back Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and a lot of picks,” he said. “If I’m Sean Marks and against my better judgment I’ve traded in the division, then I’m trying to take what I know they need to win. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart give them all their stamina. That’s where the victory comes from. to Boston I’m not so afraid of them if you take them both out of the building.
This GM was also less delighted with the pairing of KD and Tatum than the first two.
“KD and Tatum are talented, but I don’t know how tough they are,” he said. “I know he’s a lot younger than KD, but if you’re just trying to win a title, would you trade Tatum for Durant? I’d do that before giving them Jaylen and Smart. Brown is a little less valued than Tatum. because he’s not the darling of skill. He’s a top-notch athlete who’s become a good player. But I have to think Brooklyn would prefer Tatum and you wouldn’t have to give up on Smart.”
Western Conference GMs didn’t see a Tatum-Durant swap as realistic, either because they were convinced Stevens wouldn’t or shouldn’t do it. The first Western Conference GM probably had the least regard for KD out of the six, saying he wouldn’t give up more than one rotating player – Brown – for him.
“I would make Jaylen Brown more guys who don’t play picks anymore,” he said. “It would be very difficult to give up more significant pieces than Jaylen Brown. I would say Brooklyn would do KD for Tatum, but I don’t think that makes sense for Boston.”
Neither of the other two Western Conference GMs saw this as a realistic possibility either.
“I would be totally shocked if Boston traded Tatum for KD,” said one. “I’d bet it’s not a good start for them.”
One reason would be that they know who Tatum is and how he fits into their team. For all of Durant’s success, team conflicts of one kind or another have occurred at all three of his stops now – Seattle/Oklahoma City, Golden State and Brooklyn. The Celtics collectively had their problems too, but Tatum wasn’t the source of them. And when Smart challenged Tatum (and Brown) to share the ball early last season, they didn’t hesitate, they responded.
“Tatum is younger, and they know what kind of locker room guy and leader he is,” said the other. “It’s hard to give him up if he’s your young franchise guy.”
The question lingering after Tatum’s performance is whether he’s truly a pillar of the franchise. That’s where the idea of exchanging him for Durant has merit.
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Yes, there is tremendous risk in trading a 24-year-old star, Tatum, for a 34-year-old star in Durant. But Durant has already proven what he’s capable of with a title on the line, winning back-to-back Finals MVPs with the Golden State Warriors. Tatum, meanwhile, often looked confused or uncertain playing the Warriors last June, as if the stage was too big and the lights too bright. After helping the Celtics lead the series 2-1, he turned the ball over 15 times and hit 35% in the final three games, all losses.
The first Eastern Conference GM saw performance as part of Tatum’s learning curve rather than a fatal flaw.
“The elite players, the perennial All-Stars, and the NBA’s first team all failed the first time (to the Finals),” he said. “None of them just show up and kill. Maybe the really special ones find out faster. And maybe Jayson isn’t there yet. But he might get there.”
Questions about Tatum’s mental toughness are also what the Celtics consider him a possible trade-in for dangerous Durant.
“Brown has heard his name enough in trade talks and I don’t see it bothering him,” said the third Eastern Conference GM. “But if they found out that they would be willing to transfer Tatum, Tatum might give them up. Tatum is heading back to Boston saying, ‘Oh, you’re ready to get rid of me, after all I’ve done.'”
The second Eastern Conference GM advised against team president Brad Stevens to let the process drag on. If he’s already made his best bid for Durant and is willing to bet that the additions of point guard Malcolm Brogdon and forward Danilo Gallinari can take the Celtics to an 18th title, he should make that clear. Rather than waiting to see if he really needs to include Smart to get Durant before he finally pulls the trigger.
“If you’re from Boston and you want KD and you’re almost there, you need to go 100% there,” he said. “You won’t find this at Nordstrom Rack in a month. It won’t get cheaper. If anything, it’ll get more expensive. I know Marcus Smart is your guy. banner, something’s got to give. be taken. If you really want the guy (KD), then do it. If it’s too much, then say it’s too much and get it over with.”
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. Previously, he wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and wrote two books, “Rebound”, the story of NBA winger Brian Grant’s battle with Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds”, the NBA center Yao Ming’s story. He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher”. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
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