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Kristaps Porzingis Trade Grades: Celtics Do Better in Second Try, and Grizzlies Add Valuable Veteran

Well, the second time seems to be the charm. After coming close to a three-way deal that involved the Los Angeles Clippers, the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards now appear to be making a blockbuster swap that involves Kristaps Porzingis after all. But instead of the Clippers, the third team in the picture will reportedly be the Memphis Grizzlies, and instead of Malcolm Brogdon heading out, Marcus Smart will now move to Memphis as part of the deal.

There’s a lot to digest here, especially in light of Washington acquiring Jordan Poole from the Golden State Warriors for Chris Paul on Thursday. So let’s dive into that three-team deal and grade each club based on how they did here.

Boston Celtics: B-

We covered the pros of this deal for Boston in depth here, but here’s the short version: Porzingis provides a degree of scoring versatility and stationary rim-protection that Boston badly needs. Porzingis was one of the more efficient post-up scorers in the NBA last season. He made 38.5% of his 3-pointers despite getting a relatively low percentage of them as the sort of wide-open looks Boston frequently creates. Opponents shot just 53.5% against Porzingis within six feet of the rim last season, which ranked eighth in the NBA among high-minutes players. These are very valuable traits for an offense that needed more versatility and a defense that regressed last season.

The negatives of the Porzingis acquisition are just as important, and were covered in depth when we graded the initial version of the trade. Porzingis has a history of health issues. So does Robert Williams III and, should he remain in Boston, Brogdon. The Celtics are now extremely reliant on players that have never proven durable. They also added a third extremely expensive veteran to a roster that will soon be paying Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum super max money. If ownership is willing to pay exorbitant tax bills, so be it, but the flexibility lost by operating above the second apron could potentially prove crippling. Finally, the reporting has suggested that this deal likely means the end of the Grant Williams era in Boston. While Williams is a flawed player, he was ultimately Boston’s most reliable big man entering next season. Al Horford is 37 and Robert Williams simply can’t stay healthy. Boston’s front court still has a number of questions.

So why did Boston do slightly better in this version of the trade than the earlier one featuring Brogdon? A few reasons. The two first-round picks they picked up are obviously nice sweeteners here. We also have to acknowledge that Smart is coming off of a very poor season by his standards. An ankle injury may have contributed to it, but it’s worth noting that after winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2022, most metrics rated Smart as barely better than average defensively last season. FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR graded him as the 16th-best defensive point guard last season, and ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus ranked him 15th. Couple that with his inconsistent shooting and age (Smart will turn 30 next season), and it’s not hard to argue that Brogdon is the more valuable long-term player, and that both of them have been eclipsed by Derrick White.

And then there’s the intangible side of the equation. Measuring Smart’s impact on the locker room in Boston would be impossible. He was the self-described heart and soul of the team. But after years of disappointing playoff losses in which they were favored, it’s probably worth wondering if this team was ready for a new heart and soul anyway. That isn’t to dismiss what Smart has meant to the Celtics or the city of Boston, but rather, to suggest that sometimes, teams that have been together for a long time simply need to hear new voices. It’s fair to wonder if the Smart era in Boston had simply run its course. After the way they lost the Eastern Conference finals to Miami, some significant change was seemingly needed. Brad Stevens delivered one with this trade. Now the rest of the locker room will have to step up and try to fill Smart’s shoes.

Memphis Grizzlies: B

The negatives we covered above still apply to Memphis. The success or failure of this trade may come down to which version of Smart the Grizzlies get. If Smart reverts to his 2022 self, this is a slam dunk for Memphis. If he’s the player he was last year or declines with age? It’s a loss. At just 29, the former seems closer to the truth than the latter, especially since Smart is built to defender bigger, bulkier players than small guards who require peak foot speed.

Ultimately, this is a financially savvy move as much it’s one designed to help the Grizzlies on the court. The reality of their roster construction is that Memphis needs to pay a high-end backup point guard at all times because of the time Ja Morant frequently misses. However, merely existing in the Western Conference means that they also have to pay a high-end perimeter defender just to survive in the postseason. In the past, they paid Tyus Jones and Dillon Brooks to play those parts separately. They combined to make $26.4 million in those roles last season, and a new deal for Brooks in free agency will likely raise that figure next year. But Smart is set to make $18.5 million next season, and he can fill both roles. He’ll likely start at point guard during Morant’s 25-game suspension before sliding up to defend opposing wings when Morant returns.

And those off-the-court intangibles that Smart once brought Boston? They’re going to be welcome in Memphis. The Grizzlies have a number of respected veterans in their locker room, but clearly, there is something about that team’s culture that needs to be adjusted. Morant’s off-court problems are well-documented, but more systemic is the unnecessary bulletin-board material that Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane gave the Lakers in the first round. Smart should fit in nicely as the proverbial adult in the room as the Grizzlies try to grow into the contender they’re capable of becoming.

The asset price here isn’t quite as steep as it appears on first blush. Yes, they gave up two first-round picks and Jones to land Smart, but those picks didn’t have much upside. One was No. 25 overall in this draft. The other belongs to a Warriors team that is clearly trying to continue winning right now. What really matters here is that the Grizzlies kept their own future picks. While they might have spent their surplus, they still control all seven of their tradable first-round picks between 2024 and 2030. Those are the picks that ultimately matter from a future trade perspective, because those are the picks whose value the Grizzlies can actually control through protections (or the lack thereof). In other words, the Grizzlies still have the assets they need to make a major trade if they want to, but their hope for now is that Smart is the missing piece they needed. That’s not a guarantee, but it’s not a bad bet either given what they gave up.

Washington Wizards: B

When the trade was initially made, the idea that Washington had traded Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis without even getting a first-round pick back was hard to swallow. There was value in simply moving Porzingis now, while he had positive value as opposed to waiting and watching him potentially get injured again. But for a team that looked primed to tank, getting back a starting-caliber point guard in Tyus Jones didn’t seem to make much sense.

But in light of Washington’s next major trade, its acquisition of Jordan Poole from the Golden State Warriors, the Jones fit looks a bit more promising. Right now, Washington’s goal will obviously be to develop Poole into the star the Warriors believed he could be when they paid him $140 million. That will mean giving him the lion’s share of their on-ball reps offensively. But Poole’s shot-selection is suspect, and while he is a creative and skilled passer, he doesn’t always make the sort of basic reads and passes that a primary ball-handler needs to make to keep his teammates involved.

Jones helps on that front. Having him will help curb some of Poole’s worst habits, and giving him time to prove himself as a full-time starter could create another valuable trade asset the Wizards could flip at the deadline. It’s not unreasonable to expect Washington to receive offers of at least one protected first-round pick for Jones in February. He may not be a Wizard for a long, but he has value in the specific context of what they’re building at this moment even if he’ll help them win a couple of extra games that they might otherwise prefer to lose. 

Source : CBS Sports