Marcus Smart is the toughest decision regarding trade deadlines in the NBA

On the day he became eligible to trade, Marcus Smart provided a quiet but assertive reminder of how much of an impact he had on the Boston Celtics.

Smart not registered Which out of 128 points for Boston on Tuesday night, but his mark was all over the team’s early dominance in a 53-point victory over the Sacramento Kings. Smart only took three shots on Tuesday, focused on defense and upped the pace, introducing Boston’s blast in the first quarter with some great playmaking.

He finished +36 in plus/minus for the second game in a row since returning from HSP and is now plus -177 for the season, the Celtics’ second best mark behind only Jason Tatum (plus 212).

However, Smart remains the most polarizing player on the Celtics roster and certainly the most interesting player ahead of the February trading deadline. Having signed a four-year contract extension this summer, Smart can now transfer him, and his name may hover more than any other player in Boston over the next two weeks.

The truth is that, except for the unexpected, the Celtics won’t trade Tatum, Jaylen Brown or Robert Williams next month. While any and all moves must be considered as the team fails to meet lofty expectations, the Celtics brass has held up so at the lowest points that the wisest path forward was to find the right pieces that complement this team’s pillars.

The unanswered question: Is intelligence part of this core and is it the long-term answer as a team’s starting point guard?

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Working for Him: The Celtics’ four-man squad that includes Tatum, Brown, Williams and Smart have a net worth rating of 15.3 in 363 minutes together in more than 20 games this season. Of the 52 NBA four-man lineups with at least this amount of time, the Boston quartet ranked fifth in the NBA (behind groups from Minnesota, Atlanta, Denver, and Utah).

The conversation about Smart might be easier if he hits the ball better. For the third consecutive season, the Smart’s score of 3 is below the league average. It’s down 30.3 percent in 4.7 attempts per game this season.

Smart’s shooting issues aren’t much of an issue when the team rolls around like the last two games. But given Boston’s desire to allow Tatum and Brown to facilitate the attack even more, his shot dip is certainly an issue when teams force the ball out of the Jays’ hands and Smart can’t push it.

The Celtics team has done their due diligence to explore its commercial value and there are likely to be offers closer to the deadline that will force Stevens and his front office staff to think about the future of Smart.

Chris Forsberg on Marcus Smart

Celtics has an Excellent Plus rating of 7.4 net on 1,004 non-litter properties with Smart sharing the floor with Jays, according to Clean Glass data. In a total of 486 minutes together, the Smart-Brown-Tatum trio has a meager offensive rating of 107.8, but is matched by an elite defensive rating of 101.1.

Among Boston’s top spinners, only Williams (plus 16.3 out of 1,020 non-waste time possessions per glass-cleaning) has a better net rating alongside Geez in this year’s lineup. For comparison’s sake, Dennis Schroeder’s Tatum and Brown have a plus-6.1 net rating on 672 possessions, and while the offensive rating goes up quite a bit, the defensive rating goes up by about three points per 100 possessions as well.

Despite some difficulties during the 2020-21 season, history indicates that the Smart-Tatum-Brown trio is able to thrive. Last season showed that, even with Kemba Walker handicapped, that group was able to put together glamorous offensive numbers with the right individuals.

Al Horford’s shooting struggles, combined with Smart’s 3-point problems, certainly hampered Boston’s offensive production, though the top five favorites continue to put up excellent overall numbers.

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Celtics advanced numbers with Tatum, Brown and Smart on the field together

If the Celtics team is convinced that they need something more than minor tweaks to the support team to derail that team from its inconsistent ways, the decision to move forward with Smart is more complex.

The team’s inability to commit to developing young talent left the Celtics team short on coveted trading assets ahead of the February trading deadline. Their middle position gives limited value to their draft choices. All of this makes Smart the most valuable of its limited tradable assets.

Report: ‘Very active’ Celtics eyes these kinds of deals

If a competitor seeking a defensive upgrade is willing to send a first-round SMART pick to Boston, the team should at least consider what might happen next. If the Celtics think their next bragging might be on a playmaker, collecting a draft origin that might help with that task might take some of the sting out of the Smart move.

While Smart has his obvious flaws, he has shown a willingness this season to scale back his shot production. Nights Like Tuesdays offer a glimpse into the best version of Smart, though he should absolutely improve the shooting to share the floor with Tatum and Brown as much as he does.

If the Boston calling card under Ime Udoka is going to be a defense, there is also a clear value to Smart being part of that kernel. Smart shares NBA Progress Steal Every Game (2.0) with Dejounte Murray and Chris Paul. He is among the top ten in the league in distractions.

We don’t envy Brad Stevens and the decisions he might have to make about Smart. The Celtics team has done their due diligence to explore its commercial value and there are likely to be offers closer to the deadline that will force Stevens and his front office staff to think about the future of Smart.

One thing to keep in mind, especially if the Celtics are able to pick up a bit here: There doesn’t seem to be any move involving Smart that will improve the immediate trajectory of Boston’s season.

So unless the Celtics are willing to remove all their veteran and no-core pieces and embrace the heavy youth infusion – which seems unlikely – then they better ride the season and find out Smart’s future and direction from the team over the summer when decisions are less limited and rushed.

Nights like Tuesday don’t make it easy to decide how the Celtics should advance with Smart.

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