I like Marcus Smart.
Just not for the Celtics.
Much like with any NBA Draft, we’ll look back in a few years – maybe longer – and be able to assess whether Thursday’s selections by Danny Ainge were the right ones for his rebuilding franchise. There are never any guarantees, only best guesses based on extensive scouting, workouts, and interviews.
By all accounts, Smart is a great kid. The Oklahoma State point guard and two-time All-Big 12 First Teamer cares more about winning than personal accolades, he’s an incredibly willing defender with crafty hands, and he rebounds well for his position. For second-year head coach Brad Stevens, those are all big checkmarks.
But Smart is also potentially redundant to a roster filled with current and future question marks.
Make no mistake, whomever the Celtics opted for at No. 6 with Kansas center Joel Embiid already off the board would have been something of an excess. The team already has Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, and Kelly Olynyk, who are all capable of playing power forward. Kris Humphries could also be re-signed. Had they done so, you could easily make an argument against the C’s choosing Kentucky’s Julius Randle or Indiana’s Noah Vonleh as well.
But none of those aforementioned big men are considered the best and most talented player on the roster. That’s captain Rajon Rondo, and it’s not close.
The All-Star point guard’s spot was the one position on the team that didn’t need an immediate or long-term upgrade unless Ainge and his staff are planning for a future without their present face of the organization.
As has been well documented, Rondo will be a free agent next summer and the book on him is incredibly divided. Most assume, like his elder teammates of championship runs past, the guard won’t want to be part of a lengthy rebuild and would leave in free agency for a contender if he isn’t dealt prior. Others believe Rondo might be willing to stay in an effort to lead his team to Banner 18, but that the max money he’d likely command wouldn’t be worth his services in the midst of the team’s rebirth. Complicating matters, he has previously indicated an interest in testing the market while simultaneously saying he doesn’t like change.
Naturally, Ainge, Stevens, owner Wyc Grousbeck and others were asked about the elephant in the room following the draft, and the talking points were common across the board:
Smart’s arrival doesn’t signal Rondo’s departure, and the two can most definitely share time on the court.
Smart – 6-foot-3 and a fullback-looking 227 pounds – is a bit undersized to be a two-guard and, while Stevens believes he shoots better than his percentages indicate (career 41.3 percent from the field and 29.5 percent from behind the arc), the prospective combo-guard struggles from the perimeter and only marginally improved as a sophomore. Plus, similar to Rondo, he likes to be in control of the ball.
In other words, if the versatile Smart is being viewed as restricted free agent Avery Bradley’s heir apparent, I’m not buying it – even if the Celts elect to let the injury-plagued Bradley walk. The rookie pairing with Bradley would make far more sense both on paper and on the floor.
Smart money says the new addition is here to supplant Rondo, whether that’s in the coming weeks or a year from now, and that’s the wrong move unless the latter is the one driving the bus out of town. Proven stars need to be accompanied by other great talents, rather than replaced with youth flaked by broad words like “potential” and “upside”.
Ainge has a plethora of assets to provide Rondo with the company he needs and Grousbeck noted trade season is far from over since you can never count out “Trader Danny”. Still, the decision to add Smart suggests contingency plans have been made.
Independently, Smart is a very good, physical player, a competitor with tremendous character, and he projects to be a solid, successful pro. But, he’s also a point guard on a team that possesses on of the league’s best.
If you’re in the camp that believes Rondo could be part of the long-term solution and not simply a trade chip for additional assets, it’s hard not to prefer the new kid have better luck elsewhere in favor of Randle or Vonleh – even if he was best player on the board.
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