A three-team trade between the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, and Washington Wizards sent shockwaves through the NBA as Wednesday night was turning into Thursday morning just hours before the draft. It’s a shocking deal that shakes up two championship contenders and starts to lay the groundwork for a rebuilding franchise.
Marcus Smart is going to the Memphis Grizzlies. Kristaps Porzginis is headed to the Boston Celtics. Tyus Jones will be the new face of the Washington Wizards. The Grizzlies are sending the Celtics two first round picks to make it happen, the No. 25 overall selection in Thursday’s 2023 NBA Draft and the Golden State Warriors’ top-4 protected pick in 2024 that was sent to Memphis years ago. Washington is also getting Danilo Gallinari and center Mike Muscala from Boston as part of the deal.
Got all that? Let’s make sure:
Celtics get: Kristaps Porzingis, Grizzlies’ No. 25 pick in 2023 draft, Warriors’ top-4 protected pick in 2024 draft
Grizzlies get: Marcus Smart
Wizards get: Tyus Jones, No. 35 pick in 2023 draft, Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala
The deal happened after an earlier version of the trade involving the Clippers fell through. Boston was originally set to send Malcolm Brogdon to the Clippers, with the No. 30 pick and Marcus Morris going to Washington, while Porzginis landed in Boston. The Clippers backed away because of injury concerns to Brogdon.
With all that chaos now established, let’s grade this trade from the standpoint of all three parties involved.
Grizzlies grade: B+
This off-season, the Grizzlies needed to find a way to replace Dillon Brooks’ defense and intensity while also finding someone who could fill the void left by Ja Morant during his 25-game suspension to start the 2023-24 season. And somehow, some way, they managed to accomplish both in one fell swoop.
Smart (the Defensive Player of the Year in 2021-22) is one of the best/most ferocious perimeter defenders in the NBA. On top of that, he’s an underrated floor general, despite some type casting him as a mere ‘combo guard.’ I mean, could a combo guard have the presence of mind to drop a dime like this?
The reason this isn’t a perfect A+ is two-fold. First, by getting Smart, the team loses the most reliable backup point guard in the league in Tyus Jones. And while that issue seems to be canceled out by the prospect of having Morant and Smart as your two nominal point guards, both of those guys have a history of missing significant parts of the season with injury (the two missed a combined 42 games last year).
The other thing is that while Smart is a very willing three-point shooter, he hasn’t been that good of one recently. According to the Thinking Basketball database, he’s averaging just 37% on wide-open threes in the last three seasons (37th percentile). In contrast, Jones was a 41% wide-open three-point shooter in the last three years (67th percentile). Last year, the Grizzlies were 23rd in 3-point percentage. Adding Smart (and losing Jones) does little to remedy this area of weakness.
Washington Wizards: A-
Porzingis is a good NBA basketball player. The Wizards are (clearly) not trying to be a good NBA team next season. Having Porzingis would get in the way of that goal. By moving him now, you avoid winning some games that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise and improve your chances of earning a high selection in the 2024 NBA Draft.
On top of that, Jones and Gallinari’s money comes off the books after this season. Meanwhile, Muscala only has one more year under contract after this (a club option worth 3.5 million in 2024-25, per Spotrac). Jones also gives you a potential trade asset that could be moved for draft capital at the deadline.
The reason they also don’t get a perfect A+ is because, as it stands, the only draft capital they got back for Porzingis was an early second-rounder. He’s only got one year on his deal left, so you can’t say that this is like the Bradley Beal situation (where his contract was viewed as a negative asset by many teams). This is a minor nitpick, but it would have been nice if they got a late first-round pick for Porzingis instead.
Boston Celtics: B
The Celtics already have a dynamic pair of big men in Al Horford and Robert Williams III. The problem is that Horford just turned 37, and both of them (particularly Williams) have injury concerns to worry about.
While he also has his own injury history, Porzingis gives them another body who can masquerade as a cross between the two bigs when he’s on the court. He’s not as good of a spacer as Horford, but he’s still pretty good. He’s not as good of a rim protector as Williams, but he’s still pretty good. And he’s not as good of a dribble handoff hub as either of them, but he’s still pretty good. Overall, he gives them another skilled center who can, at the very least, eat regular-season innings for Williams and Horford to enable them to conserve their bodies for the playoffs. And who knows, maybe he’s a difference maker next postseason.
When you watch what KP was doing as an offensive hub this year and then watch how Udoka was using Brown in 2021-22, there is such a clear synergy between what Porzingis brings to the table and what the Celtics already have at their disposal. pic.twitter.com/rG2DsszQMx
— AlexHoops (@AlexHoops_) June 21, 2023
And as we mentioned earlier, Porzingis is only under contract through the next season, whereas Smart would have been on the books for another two years after that. Making this move gives the Celtics a better chance of retaining their Jaylen Brown/Jayson Tatum/Derrick White core without dealing with massive financial penalties under the new CBA.
The negatives of this trade are that they lose their emotional leader and defensive quarterback in Smart, they gain a player with a questionable medical past in Porzingis, and we now know that Brogdon – one of the guys who will be picking up the slack in Smart’s absence – has some red flags of his own for them to worry about.
We aren’t certain that this deal makes the Celtics a better team than they were before, and for a team that has championship aspirations next season, that isn’t a great sign.