The Celtics officially completed the trade that will send Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in return for Kristaps Porzingis late Thursday night.
Brad Stevens spoke to reporters just before 2 AM EST following a busy NBA Draft, as the C's president of basketball operations explained the difficult decision to pull a trigger on the three-team deal earlier this week that ended Smart's nine-year tenure in Boston.
"It wasn't a very long [goodbye)]" Stevens said during his media presser. "It was your best chance to share your gratitude to him, and I think that because of these things and the sensitivity and how many people talk about him and the wild speculation when something happens, it’s hard to digest and it's hard to process. He actually came in this morning, so I got a chance to see him this morning. You're not going to be around a guy that you really like every day, but you'll always have the relationship that these teammates have, these coaches have, that everybody in the organization has that'll be forever. Then, when you go to a new place, then you build a new one and your network doubles. That's just sort of the way it works."
The trade also involved the Celtics netting two first-round picks from the Grizzlies, while sending out the expiring contracts of Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala -- along with the 35th overall pick in Thursday's draft -- to the Washington Wizards in return for Porzingis' services.
Stevens wouldn't discuss the reported original three-team swap of Porzingis for Malcolm Brogdon with the Los Angeles Clippers -- that fell through at the last minute -- which led to the Grizzlies inquiring about Smart instead to save the deal just prior to Wednesday's midnight deadline for Porzingis to pick up his $36 million player options.
While Stevens acknowledge what Smart has meant for the franchise and the city of Boston over the last nine seasons, he believes the move addresses the Celtics' frontcourt depth concerns by adding another proven scorer in Porzingis -- who's coming off a career-high 23.2 points per contest during the 2022-23 campaign with the Wizards.
Still, Stevens indicated that while a change was needed, he did downplay that Smart was an issue in the locker room or that a new de-facto leader has to emerge when it comes to other veteran members of this current Celtics core.
"I don't really look at it that way," Stevens said. "I think everybody's going to be asked, as they do every summer, to improve, grow, develop and be ready to contribute in the role that they're ultimately asked to play. From our standpoint, we just looked at it as, 'what's our best opportunity to continue to grow and improve as a team?' Knowing that sometimes really, really hard decisions have to be made. Like I said, not only adding Kristaps with his skill, his size and the positional versatility, we just had many more numbers and options at the smaller positions than we did at the bigs, especially as we look forward too. I thought it was good to do, but hard to do."
Despite the decision to part ways with Smart not coming as an easy one, especially since Stevens informed him of the trade 10-15 minutes before the news broke -- the two got to speak for a second time following the swap, as the Celtics president of basketball operations reiterated his appreciation for all Smart had done on and off the court.
"I told him when he got here, we were 25-57 the year before, and the greatest legacy that you can leave is it's better off because you were there," Stevens said. "I think that everybody here feels that way."
According to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe, the trade came as a "complete shock" and a "gut punch" for Smart. Per his latest report, one source said "Marcus loves Boston, he thought he was going to retire there. He wanted to retire there." For a good portion of the Celtics fan base, Smart's departure will feel like a significant loss moving forward.
"He'll always have Boston, for sure, right?" Stevens said. "I think Boston really appreciates him, and certainly I do. He knows we'll do anything for him, but it was hard."
Meanwhile, as the Celtics continue to reshape the roster surrounding the trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and now Porzinigis, Stevens didn't comment on who would assume Smart's role -- especially when Derrick White's name was brought up.
"We're going to need Derrick to continue to be great, and we have no doubt he will, but we’ve got a lot of other capable guards too," he said. "Obviously Payton [Pritchard], Malcolm, Derrick, we have a lot of good players back there. Again, last year we had four really good players, and we couldn't get any time for Payton, and we just were maybe pretty thin up front if we went into some games with not having some guys available."
With the off-season barely underway for the Celtics, Stevens was able to pull off a block-buster trade by parting ways with a fan favorite in Smart to save a previous dead deal (for Brogdon) just to land Porzingis.
"It's not comparing (one guard) against another, or whatever the case may be," Stevens said. "The way that this deal materialized and the way it gave us a chance to balance our roster, as heart-wrenching as it was to part with Marcus, it was something we felt we had to do."
Could this hefty price to usher in a new era prove to be worth it? Only time will tell if Stevens can knock it out of the park once again.
Photo used courtesy of Getty Images
Photo used courtesy of Getty Images