Thursday, January 11, 2024

How Celtics' offseason moves are paying dividends

Only 37 games into the season, we've gotten a small sample size of what kind of team the Celtics are after they revamped their roster in the offseason. 

Although Boston's stars have been in and out of the lineup due to injuries or rest, we've been able to see collectively what the team looks like when everyone is healthy.

On the other hand, we've also been able to see how the players the Celtics dealt away have fared on their respective new teams. Trading away Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III, and Malcolm Brogdon to acquire Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, fans were left wondering if they gave up too much. 

While there's still plenty of season left and a lot can change, let's take a look at the blockbuster trades that went down this past summer and how that's worked out for all parties involved.

Kristaps Porzingis Trade -

Celtics Receive: Kristaps Porzingis, 2023 first-round pick (No. 25), 2024 first-round pick (top-four protected from Warriors) 
Memphis Grizzlies Receive: Marcus Smart
Washington Wizards Receive: Tyus Jones, Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, 2023 second-round pick (No. 35) from Boston

This move for the Celtics was one that went down to the wire -- there was a midnight deadline to get the deal done -- as Porzingis needed to opt into his $36 million player option for the 2023-24 season. Boston originally had a deal in place that would send Malcolm Brogdon to the Clippers, but that deal fell through. Quickly, Brad Stevens had to find an alternative and added Marcus Smart to the deal.

This was a shocking move for the Celtics as adding Smart to the deal was a move that left many questioning whether it was worth it. As the heart and soul of the C's for years, and a defensive specialist it was difficult for fans and ownership to see him leave. However, adding a player like Porzingis that would bring shot blocking, shooting, and size to a team thin in the front court, along with multiple picks, it was understandable why Stevens felt they needed to make the move. 

Thus far this season, Porzingis when on the court has been very productive and has given Boston what they expected he would bring. He has missed some time this season (some rest/load management) which was expected considering his injury history, but regardless he has provided the Celtics with yet another elite offensive option. 

In his 27 games this season, Porzingis has scored 19.8 points per game on 53% shooting from the field, and 32% from deep. He's also added 1.5 blocks per game and seven rebounds per contest for Boston.

As the third option behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, it was expected he would take a step back offensively, but he has made the most out of his opportunities. Providing mismatches on offense, Porzingis' size has added another element to the Celtics second-ranked offense (121.8 offensive rating).

For the Grizzlies, Marcus Smart has been invaluable for a team that needed a quality starting point guard to fill in for Ja Morant, who was suspended for the first 25 games of the season, and recently has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering a labrum tear in his right shoulder. 

In 20 starts for Memphis, Smart is averaging a career high 14.5 points per game to pair with 2.1 steals per game. His leadership, effort, and defense was something Boston knew it was going to miss when they traded him, and it hasn't wavered in his first season with the Grizzlies.

He's also been on a hot-streak during his last three games, averaging 25.6 points per game on 45% shooting from deep. Adding Smart to the roster certainly was a big move for the Grizzlies, which could pay off big next season once Memphis has a healthy roster. 

The Wizards acquiring Tyus Jones in this trade has helped, as he's had a career year this season averaging 12.7 points per game on 52% shooting, and 43.9% from beyond the arc. It hasn't translated to many wins this season, but they at least added a player that has produced. 

On the surface, it seems like everyone benefited from the trade so far. The Celtics still have a series of second-round picks they acquired using one of the Grizzlies' first-round picks (added one to Holiday deal) -- so it's to be determined how that works out depending on how Boston uses those.

Jrue Holiday Trade -

Celtics Receive: Jrue Holiday
Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams, 2024 first-round pick (via Warriors), 2029 unprotected first-round pick (via Celtics)

After the Milwaukee Bucks traded Jrue Holiday to the Portland Trail Blazers in a deal for Damian Lillard, Holiday was a prime trade candidate. Quickly reacting to their conference rival, the Celtics went all in to acquire Holiday -- who was expected to fill the void Smart's departure left. 

The price for Holiday was hefty, but Boston was willing to pay it to acquire one of the top two-way players in the league. His championship experience and unselfishness would be something the Celtics needed with a roster filled with offensive talent. 

So far Holiday has delivered for the Celtics, orchestrating the offense with his 4.7 assists per game, and bringing the intensity on the defensive end. He is averaging the second-worst scoring average of his career, but he has been willing to take a step back to let others on the team thrive. 

With Tatum, Brown, Porzingis, and Derrick White all playing prominent roles offensively, it wasn't going to be easy for Holiday to get enough touches to match the offensive production he had in New Orleans and Milwaukee respectively. 

Porzingis has noticed Holiday having to make the biggest adjustment this season, stating he believes he has sacrificed the most on this current roster -- a statement Holiday acknowledged in his postgame presser following Monday's 133-131 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
"I appreciate KP saying that. I'm not mad at my situation, I'm not mad at the sacrifices I have to make," Holiday told reporters. "Everybody makes them."
That has helped catapult the Celtics to first place in the Eastern Conference -- also good for the best record in the NBA at 29-8. With a career-low 10.8 attempts per game, Holiday had his best three-point shooting season of his career at 42%. He also has a career-high of 6.5 rebounds per game and is making his impact felt in other areas outside of scoring. 

Meanwhile, the Blazers were expected to shop Malcolm Brogdon once he arrived for more assets, but he has performed very well for them this season, with averages of 14.9 points per game (matches his average with Boston last season), 43% shooting from the field, and 41.3% from deep. He hasn't skipped a beat with Portland and has been productive both off the bench and as a starter. The Celtics certainly do miss his scoring off the bench, but needed to part with him to acquire a talent like Holiday -- both for value purposes and to take on his contract. 

Unfortunately for Portland, Robert Williams' injury history continued as he suffered another knee aliment in November, and is out for the rest of the season. When healthy Williams has proven to be a solid defender and lob threat, so losing him this quickly was not ideal. Coming back fully healthy next season, he could make an impact for the Blazers, it's just a tough blow for a team that wanted to add talent to the team after losing Lillard. Luckily they have a few future first-round picks to work with to rebuild their team, so it remains to be seen how those picks work out. 

The Celtics got exactly what they wanted in Holiday and it has worked out well for them so far. Losing Brogdon has been somewhat tough considering how thin their bench currently is behind Horford, but they've been able to make it work. The Blazers could find some high impact players with the future first-round picks, so it remains to be seen who "won" the trade, but the loss of Williams to injury definitely has hurt. 

Sitting atop the league, Boston is in a good place after all of the deals they made this offseason. Should everyone stay healthy, they will be a championship contender. The Grizzlies and Blazers were able to add some strong pieces to their roster, and it remains to be seen how they do next season when everyone gets healthy. 

The Celtics received plenty of criticism for what they gave up in the offseason, but it seems to be working for them at the moment. With a lot of season left to play, it's clear Boston was able to make the most out of these deals. 

Ian Carrano

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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