Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.

“I’ve been in the gym, putting the work in, and it’s starting to click,” Smart said. “Anything I can do to help my team win.

“I’d like to think of myself as just a basketball player. I don’t think I have a true position. It’s kind of hard because of the things I can do and my abilities. That keeps me on the court and my offensive game is starting to come along a little bit. I just keep playing defense and things like that are going to help this team win.”

Smart’s shortcomings are not because of lack of hard work. He deserves nights like this where those shots are going down and he is lauded for more than his defensive prowess. The next step for Smart is sustaining this level, which may be more difficult, but hardly unattainable.

Globe: Hard work puts Marcus Smart in good position to succeed

I personally think Marcus is having a bit of a breakout offensive season. It didn’t start that way, but it turned into that once he made the switch to the primary backup point guard role. There, as more of a distributor, he hasn’t found himself open on the wings when taller defenders let him shoot in an effort to disrupt Isaiah Thomas drives. Smaller guards have defended him, allowing him to do more work in the post where he can score or pass effectively, sometimes even drawing double-teams which opens up his teammates and puts the opposition into rotation.

With that as the foundation for Smart’s offense, the rest has fallen in line. In November, we screamed at a career 30% 3-point shooter to stop taking so many damned 3’s. And… he did. In November he took 5.06 per game. In December, he took 3.25. Over his past nine games Smart is shooting 45.5% from deep… and it’s better if you eliminate a few of those last-second heaves that he always seems to end up taking.

Last night was a bit of an aberration… no one expects Smart to have many 5-7 from 3 nights… the stretch he’s had of 1-4, 2-4, 1-1 type nights is probably going to be more typical for Marcus if he keeps playing this way. If he sticks mostly to catch-and-shoot corner 3’s (he’s shooting 52.9% from the left corner, 50% from the right corner) he’s going to change people’s perception of the guy who can’t shoot.

And as is required in any of my Marcus Smart analysis, here’s your reminder that he’s a 3rd year player who not only missed a bunch of time in his first two years, but has seen his role evolve a lot over that time. Again, Rajon Rondo was a Celtic when Smart was a rookie. While that feels like forever ago, it’s a reminder that he’s been through a big evolution regarding his role.

Now, Smart is settling into a pretty regular routine. We know he can pass (4.4 assists per game, 7.4 assists per 100 possessions, and an assist percentage of 21.4%… all career highs so far) and we sure as hell know he can defend. If this new role makes him more comfortable and he settles into being just an OK shooter, then he can become a pretty special player. A guy who can average double-digit scoring, who can hit at the league average (or better) from the corner 3, and who can drop almost five dimes per game while defending the other team’s best perimeter player is one hell of a weapon off the bench.

Now the only question is… can he keep this up? The nine-game stretch is nice. It feels better than his past stretches of good play. But will heat-check Marcus show up after this 5-7 explosion, or will he stay within himself and be the guy who’s evolving into a player worthy of where he was drafted?

If he can do the latter, the Celtics are about to make some noise.

Related links: CSNNE: Smart went above and beyond in Bradley’s absence  |  ESPN Boston: Marcus Smart is more than a defensive menace  | ProJo: Plenty of mettle in Smart’s game


Speaking on the Lowe Post podcast, ESPN NBA reporter Zach Lowe — who is one of the best-informed basketball thinkers in the media — said his theory is that Butler is indeed gettable, and he mentioned the Boston Celtics specifically as a destination.

The price would be hefty, though. Here’s Lowe:

“I don’t think there’s much real happening with Jimmy Butler. My theory — and you could speak to this too, Kevin (Arnovitz) — I think they want to see if they can get the Nets pick from Boston. I think this is all just like, ‘Let’s throw it out and see if we get just Smart, Crowder, the Nets pick and if we can get that, then we’re talking.’ If we can’t get that, then we’re not talking. I think Jimmy Butler is gettable. … I think Jimmy Butler is gettable, and it just has to be an absolutely monstrous offer, and we’re gonna have this happen once every three months, like ‘Nets pick? Nets pick? Nets pick?'”

MassLive: Report: Jimmy Butler “getable” for Brooklyn Nets pick?

There’s so much to consider when it comes to a deal like this. First and foremost, the question becomes “are the Celtics going to build their next contender through the draft, or with their current pieces?” Danny Ainge has constructed a nice team in Boston. Isaiah Thomas is a monster scorer, Al Horford is a perfect fit, Avery Bradley has emerged as a really good offensive player, Jae Crowder is a really good 3-and-D wing… and we just discussed what Marcus Smart can be.


Depending on how opposing teams react to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Celtics progress with this approach might be stopped… or at least slowed. Ainge will certainly have the option of changing course, trading away some of these established guys to contending teams for future picks and/or young players in an effort to use those Nets picks and build a future around Jaylen Brown and whomever the Celtics draft. They certainly have enough picks to stock a Minnesota Timberwolves-type of roster and move forward that way.

Will we like that as a fan base? Probably not. We’re all excited about wins and challenging Toronto for a second seed, but this is a legitimate path that can be taken. Ainge can take the next exit off this rebuild’s path and take the next road to potential greatness. He could let the youth grow and let LeBron James get old and then try to move forward a little further down the road.


He can go for it right now. And considering the Al Horford signing and previous aggressive trades to swap youth and picks for an established veteran, I’m laying my money down on this path. So let’s dive into it.

How gettable is Jimmy Butler, a 6’7″ wing who can play both ends of the floor and is having maybe the best of what will surely be his third-straight All Star season.

From a strictly money-matching perspective, Jae Crowder + Avery Bradley works. So does Crowder, Smart, Kelly Olynyk, and James Young as filler. There will have to be some other actions taken in the second scenario because Chicago has 14 players on its roster, so either Boston would have to take another player back or a third team would have to be involved.

Either way, I think I’m in on a deal like this. If it doesn’t touch Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, and other expiring deals (except Olynyk’s) then the Celtics will still have good money to spend on a serviceable center this summer. Depending on how much money they have, they could get someone like Andrew Bogut or Mason Plumlee to slide into that spot. Or maybe they use that cap space to let Ante Zizic or Guerschon Yabusele come over to fill those roles.

The Celtics have long been craving a physical beast who gobbles up rebounds and strikes fear into the heart of all who would dare drive his lane, and they hope they found him with the 23rd overall pick last June. It will be interesting to see what happens with the 6-11 Zizic when he steps up in competition class after leaving Croatia for Turkey recently, but it’s important to remember he turned just 20 Wednesday.

I was standing with Providence coach Ed Cooley on the floor of Barclays Center when the Celts picked Zizic. Cooley had coached against him on a European trip, and his eyes widened when the name was announced. “He’s big,” Cooley said.

The fact Zizic has also showed some nice skills has the Celtics hoping.

If there’s cap space remaining, the Celtics could then re-negotiate-and-extend Isaiah Thomas and, depending on cap available, Avery Bradley.

Ultimately, a starting lineup with Thomas, Bradley, Butler, and Horford is just really damn good. The defensive drop-off from Crowder to Butler isn’t has great as the offensive upgrade. Butler is still a plus defender at that position while averaging 25 points per game. If you think the offense is good now… then just wait.

Yes, the Celtics would lose Smart in that scenario, which is tough (tougher for some of us than others) but the Celtics would then be betting on Rozier to eventually grow into that backup point guard they said he’d be this past summer. They’d also be banking on Jaylen Brown (assuming he can be kept in this deal) becoming a good backup wing… maybe more next season than this one.

It’s all very fluid. The final numbers depend on just how much salary is going out and coming in, whether one of those players like Jerebko or Amir Johnson would be needed to facilitate the deal, and what the 2017-18 final cap number will actually be. It’s hard to say whether the Celtics will be able to do some of the secondary things I mentioned, but it’s possible depending on the picks that will satisfy Chicago.

Oh yes, the picks…

I’d hope the Celtics can hold onto at least one of the Nets picks but that might be a pipe dream. If the C’s are truly going for it, then those picks mean nothing to Ainge anyway. The picks are virtually meaningless if the Celtics aren’t willing to wait for Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball or Malik Monk to grow into whatever they become… which could take a few years. As good as those guys can be, and as good as they might get individually, it can take a long time for those players to become good enough to carry teams to sustained success (see: Wiggins, Andrew).

Horford is here now. Thomas is here now. Butler is 27-years-old NOW.

So will they go for it now? Will Ainge give up his stash sometime over the next month for a shot at building a challenge to Cleveland? Will he feel the post-trade team is good enough… or can be good enough depending on the next move… to truly challenge the Cavs for East superiority?

There is no LeBron out there, but LeBron just turned 32 and he’s already played more regular season minutes than Charles Barkley, Dominque Wilkins, and Allen Iverson. He’s also played the fourth-most playoff minutes in history and a bunch of international games. The miles add up for everyone.

So why not give it a shot? Why not put your chips on the table and make an aggressive move? The Celtics front-office has been masterful at figuring out quirks in CBA’s, so maybe they can master this one too and find ways to set themselves up one more time while trading some good pieces for a great one?

And Finally…

Butler is already helping the Celtics…

Butler dropped 42, and dropped the Raptors in the process last night. Toronto had a couple of chances to win in regulation but DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry both missed good looks.

Toronto, now 24-12, takes on Houston today at 6 on a back-to-back. If the Rockets can beat the Raptors, they’ll drop to 24-13 heading into Tuesday’s matchup against the 23-14 Celtics… which means Tuesday could move Boston into a tie with Toronto for second in the East.

So for all our November worries, here the Celtics are, exactly where we thought they’d be… a legitimate challenger for the second seed.

Last night’s game recaps:

Boston Globe  |  Boston Herald  |  MassLive  |  WEEI  |  CSNNE

The rest of the links:

Globe: Ailing Achilles forces Avery Bradley to sit out

MassLive: Isaiah Thomas: Celtics are the best offensive team I’ve played for  | IT, Celtics have made a heap of 3’s lately  |  C’s plan to be appropriately conservative with Bradley’s strained Achilles

Herald: Anthony Davis happy in New Orleans, other teams can only covet  |  Bradley given night off with Achilles strain

ProJo: Rozier’s patience pays off

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