I was just trying to have a nice, relaxing evening. I went out for drinks with friends last night, and we discussed, among many things, the current Titanic submersible fiasco, continual Succession references, and planned our ultimate cinema-going day in seeing Oppenheimer and Barbie on opening day (July 21st, 2023 if you are unaware). I had seen the reports of an initial Malcolm Brogdon-Kristaps Porzingis trade between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards (a three-team deal with the Los Angeles Clippers), and then the follow-up reports that Brogdon's injury ended up being too much of a liability for that deal to go through. I had resigned myself to the idea that no deal would happen yesterday, and I went to bed, my mind at peace.
Imagine my surprise this morning when I woke up to numerous Bleacher Report notifications, all talking about Marcus Smart. I couldn't wrap my head around what I was reading at first, and then as I continued to scroll around online, I finally understood what it was that had occurred: the trade had morphed into a three-team deal with the Memphis Grizzlies involved now, and it resulted in Marcus Smart being traded to Memphis, and the Celtics receiving Kristaps Porzingis, Memphis' first-round pick in this year's draft, and a first-round pick in next year's draft from Memphis by way of Golden State.
Naturally, my mind immediately shifted to try and see how I could compare this trade to Red Sox trade history, and if there are any good parallels (this was mainly inspired by a tweet that I saw that, ever the most level-headed fan base, said that this Marcus Smart trade is like the Red Sox trading Mookie Betts). As I did more diving into trade history, I settled on what I think may come closest to what this trade could end up being for the Celtics: the Nomar Garciaparra trade.
Why Marcus Smart is more Nomar Garciaparra than Mookie Betts
When Garciaparra was traded in 2004, it shocked the fan base, even though rumors had been swirling. This was the franchise cornerstone, our Derek Jeter, someone who we all thought would be a one-team player and end up with the number 5 being retired right up between Joe Cronin's 4 and Johnny Pesky's 6. Instead, business decisions killed the emotional fairy tale Red Sox fans had cooked up in their heads.
For those that don't remember, Nomar Garciaparra was the key piece in a four-team deadline deal in 2004, with the Red Sox receiving Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins and Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos, while sending Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs. It was basically an offense for defense trade, with Cabrera's glove helping shore up some defensive struggles the Red Sox were having throughout 2004 (they finished 10th in the American League in fielding percentage that year), and allowing the Red Sox to have some first base defensive depth with Mientkiewicz. Despite the reasoning, it still felt like the end of a great era in Red Sox history, and the breaking up of a Big 3 in the lineup with Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz.
Now, what on earth does Marcus Smart have to do with this? Well, if you look at the circumstances around both trades, there are a few key similarities. First, both trades happened after the teams suffered devastating playoff losses the season before. Of course, we all remember Aaron Boone sending the Red Sox packing in the 2003 ALCS (which makes every single win over the Boone-led Yankees now all that much sweeter), and the Celtics have just come off their own devastation in falling just short to the Miami Heat this past season in the Eastern Conference Finals. Even though the Garciaparra trade was made deeper into the next season than the Smart trade, both trades came from the front office seeing what changes needed to be made to push their respective teams over the edge, and it resulted in fan favorites having to be dealt away to fix those glaring holes and shake up the energy in the locker rooms.
Second, they were both core pieces to the teams when they were dealt away. Garciaparra, from 1997 to 2003, was one of the best hitters in baseball, and rightfully deserved to be seen as one of the top shortstops in the Major Leagues at the time. Garciaparra was easily one of the leaders in the Red Sox locker room, one that included peak Pedro Martinez, the bombastic Manny Ramirez, and a younger David Ortiz who was about to ascend to a whole new level of acclaim in the eyes of Red Sox fans. Smart has consistently been seen as the third piece of the Big 3 that includes Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that has led the Celtics on a lot of deep playoff runs the past few seasons. On top of that, Smart also has shown time and time again his propensity for being an emotional leader for the team, becoming the longest-tenured Celtic up until the trade.
Third, both players had started to show signs of potential injury woes and a drop off in their reliability. Garciaparra missed almost the entire 2001 season due to a wrist injury, and then an Achilles injury in 2004 kept him sidelined for most of the season, before being healthy enough to show that he could reliably play for whatever team he ended up being traded to. Smart has, while being able to suit up for a good amount of games year in and year out, has dealt with different injuries that have kept him off the court for different stretches, with multiple knee and ankle injuries showing a lot of miles are being racked up on Smart's body, and a possible downfall could be coming for Smart (also look at their ages: Garciaparra was 30 when he was traded by the Red Sox, and Smart is currently 29).
Is the Marcus Smart trade the Mookie Betts trade? No. That type of comparison would have been more applicable if the Celtics traded Jaylen Brown to the Charlotte Hornets for the number 2 pick in this year's draft, basically. But, if history is anything to show us how this trade could work out for the Celtics, it could go pretty well if it follows the timeline of the Nomar trade. I don't know if you guys heard about this, but the Red Sox ended up winning the 2004 World Series after making the Nomar trade, while Garciaparra bounced around the league and struggled with injuries throughout the rest of his career before the Red Sox had to give Garciaparra another big contract. I'm not saying that the Kristaps Porzingis trade completely guarantees the Boston Celtics are winning the 2024 NBA Finals, but I think that Celtics fans should learn a bit from their Red Sox counterparts, and see that this type of trade can actually put the team over the top.