Less than 24 hours after the Boston Celtics season came to an end, President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge announced he would step down. Then, in a surprising move, news dropped that Brad Stevens would be promoted to the big boy seat.
The Celtics (now former) head coach first got his taste of NBA action when he joined the organization in 2013 after a successful stint as the head coach of the Butler Bulldogs. After missing the playoffs in his first season, the Celtics went on to make the playoffs in seven straight seasons, including three trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. So while Stevens has found plenty of success in his NBA career thus far, none of it has come in an executive role.
If it’s hard to project what will happen when a new executive takes over, it might as well be impossible when that executive has zero experience. All we really know is that Stevens will not enter full-blown rebuild mode. Doing so is practically impossible with a player like Jayson Tatum on the roster, who will surely stay the organization’s building block moving forward. Everyone else, on the other hand, feels like they could be on the table, especially after a depressing first-round exit this season.
The one name already being thrown around as a possible offseason trade candidate is guard Marcus Smart, and one executive already told HoopsHype’s Mike Scotto that he believes Smart will wear another jersey next season.
“I think they’ll trade Smart this summer if I had to guess,” the executive told HoopsHype. “Retool around Tatum and Brown if they can get real value for Smart, but a lot up in the air there.”
This is nothing more than a guess, but an educated one at that. Smart has been a speculated trade candidate for the past couple of seasons thanks to the ascension of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Those two have easily grown into the team’s top-2 players, leaving Smart in a somewhat expendable position. If the organization wanted to mix things up, Smart could be the one player who provides a worthwhile return while also not drastically impacting the overall success.
I would expect many teams to pick up the phone this season if Smart hits the market. And I would also expect (or at least recommend) the Bulls to be one of those teams. Not only is this part of doing your due diligence as a front office, but it’s not hard to see how Smart can be an upgrade to this Chicago roster. He may not be the traditional point guard we envision the Bulls hunting this offseason, but he can check several of the boxes the Bulls need, particularly as a pesky perimeter defender.
Smart’s steal percentage has never ranked below the 77th percentile over his six seasons in the league, and he ranked top-12 in total steals during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. A positive defensive box plus minus has been a staple for Smart, who just missed the mark for this first time this season. I know that recent dip can be a bit worrisome, but considering some of the non-serious injuries this year, the Celtics general woes, and the fact Smart is still early in his prime, it feels reasonable to believe he can return to being a high-impact defender next season.
Offensively, Smart might not be a highly efficient scorer, but the Bulls would not need him to be. He can knock down the three at a serviceable rate (34.8 percent on 5.8 attempts per game over the last three seasons), and he is a good ballhandler who can sneak his way into the paint and convert at a decent clip (53.0 percent this season on shots less than 8ft from the rim). Smart also flashed his ability to get to the free-throw this season with a career-high 3.4 attempts per game. That may feel like nothing special, but that mark would immediately rank second on the team behind only Zach LaVine (5.1 FTAs per game).
Again, Smart might not possess the same facilitating prowess as potential free-agent target Lonzo Ball, but he also is not a lost cause in that category either. The former Oklahoma State point guard averaged a career-high 5.7 assists per game this season, which would have been a team-high had he been in Chicago.
Smart’s main flaw might as well be one of his most admirable qualities: Confidence. The guy plays with a chip on his shoulder and an edge this Bulls team desperately needs. However, sometimes that can result in a willingness to take the biggest shot of the night or an attempt to make the unnecessarily flashy play. Since the Bulls organization has achieved little success in recent years, he may see his role as even greater than it is alongside LaVine and Vucevic. Regardless, too much confidence is not reason enough to cross someone off the list.
Too high of an asking price, however, very well could be. Smart is on an expiring contract worth just $13.8 million next season. When we consider the kind of production he could offer a team like Chicago, that feels like a pretty valuable contract. Boston will likely recognize as much and fight for a high-quality return. Predicting that return isn’t easy, though, especially when we remember first-time front office executive Brad Stevens is running the show. Who the hell knows how he will confront trade negotiation.
I don’t see the Bulls parting ways with any more first-round draft compensation. If anything, perhaps the organization throws in a second-rounder in some kind of role-player-based deal. Maybe this is where a Lauri Markkanen sign-and-trade deal could work its way into the mix. The Bulls would have to add another decent role player into the mix, though. Would Boston want Tomas Satoransky to replace the guard they’re giving up? Would they ask for Thaddeus Young? And, if so, how would the Bulls feel about that? All of this will be something to think about if the Celtics’ willingness to trade Smart begins to pick up steam this offseason. Until then, we wait.