Celtics

Curran: Why do Celtics want a player who quit on his team?

Curran: Why do Celtics want a player who quit on his team?

It’s in Danny Ainge’s DNA to be in on everybody at every moment.

And because he’s willing to constantly tinker, barter, wheedle and maneuver, the Celtics will likely enter the 2018-19 season as odds-on favorites to be the best team in the Eastern Conference.

But there comes a time when you have to stop flip, flip, flipping your houses. Just settle in and live in one for a while. The Celtics owe it to themselves to allow the team Ainge and Brad Stevens conjured from relative dust to play together.

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Especially when it comes to Kawhi Leonard.

The lion’s share of the local conversation surrounding Leonard since it came out Friday that he wants to be traded and no longer wants to be a “Spur for life”  has revolved around what he can do for the Celtics and what Boston should give up to get him.

He’s a “top-five player.” He’s a “Durant stopper.” The Celtics have more than enough to go get him.

He also just quit on his team, has a year left on his contract before he can flee, and purportedly wants to play in Los Angeles.

I don’t get it. How does a guy go on wildcat strike for almost an entire season, never even attempt to publicly explain what his particular problem was, and still have that messy little detail brushed away like it isn’t a red flag?

Our guy Sherrod Blakely is one of those saying caveat emptor when it comes to Kawhi, but with the draft bearing down and the fact the Celtics reportedly had Kawhi interest back at the trade deadline, we are going to hear more and more spitballing about why adding him is a great idea!

All we have are intimations of what went sideways for Leonard in San Antonio. The quadriceps tendinopathy that limited him to nine games is just the root of the problem. The Spurs dodged, ducked and parried the issue all year. Leonard eventually went to get a second opinion in February. He’s pissed at Spurs GM RC Buford. He’s pissed at the medical staff. He’s all set with his Spurs teammates who tried to convince him in March to rejoin the team during a players-only meeting.

It may all just boil down to Leonard deciding he was going to protect his No. 1 asset -- his body -- as he approaches free agency after next season. That’s no sin. You don’t have to look any further than the case of Isaiah Thomas and his hip injury for a cautionary tale about playing through pain and the massive financial loss that decision can lead to.

But if you’re going to make the decision to sit and collect your paycheck while your teammates are thinking you’ve deserted them and not say anything to explain, then you have to accept that you’re going to forfeit trust.

Which is what Charles Barkley said this week. “I blame Kawhi for a lot of his stuff,” Barkley told ESPN. “If he wants to leave, he’s got to come out and say he wants to leave. . . If he wants to leave, just say, ‘Hey, I’ve had enough of San Antonio’, don’t use the doctor's excuse . . . I think that is cowardly using the doctor's excuse. He is upset at the Spurs’ misdiagnosis . . . 

“Do you think the Spurs doctors really wanted to make a mistake on arguably the second- or third-best player in the world?” Barkley asked. “They might have screwed up, I don’t know the answer to that question. But the notion that they tried to do this and alienate one of the two or three best players in the world is laughable.”

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Aside from not knowing when (or if) Leonard is going to be willing to play again are the factors that exist in Boston.

Their best player, Kyrie Irving, is up at the end of next season. If Kyrie isn’t involved in a deal to land Leonard then the Celtics are looking at a scenario where they could potentially lose both players after next season. And they will have given up a huge asset (the Kings pick in next year’s draft, Jaylen Brown, etc.) for the privilege of leasing Leonard who, it’s been reported, just wants to get to LA. At that point, maybe Irving looks around and sees a Celtics team that doesn’t have near the upside it did just a year earlier.

Any team that puts together a package for Leonard will be flirting with the unknown. And it’s naïve to think plenty of teams aren’t going to shrug and say, “Who cares? It’s Kawhi Leonard. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year. This is a player you bet on.”

Those teams that don’t have as much to lose as the Celtics. Boston can’t afford to be wrong on Kawhi Leonard. 

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New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

Marcus Smart is right where he wants to be, a member of the Celtics.

But Smart, 24, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal on Thursday, readily admits that there was a time not that long ago when he wasn’t sure about his future in Boston when negotiations didn't go nearly as smooth as he would have liked.

“At one moment, I didn’t really know what to think,” Smart said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “My main focus has been on my mom and my family.”

His mother Camellia Smart was recently diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

“When you go through adversity with something like this in your family, it puts things in perspective and everything else becomes kind of a blur to you,” Smart said.

One thing that is clear has been his Smart's impact on the Celtics.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been among the league’s top on-the-ball defenders for years, showcasing a level of defensive versatility that stands out.

Boston allowed just 99.5 points per 100 possessions when Smart was on the floor, which ranked among the league's leaders among guards who played 41 or more games.

And while he is often criticized for his shooting struggles (a career 36-percent shooter from the field, 29.3 percent from 3-point range), Smart still averaged a respectable 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game last season primarily as Boston’s first guard off the bench.

Despite a solid season, the free agent marketplace was not kind one to him.

One of the main reasons for that? Smart was a restricted free agent, which meant the Celtics would have the right to match any offer sheet he signed.

Smart was also hurt by the fact that there were fewer teams with the kind of financial flexibility to put forth an offer sheet that would make the Celtics strongly consider letting him walk.

But even before Smart hit free agency, Danny Ainge and the entire Celtics organization made it absolutely crystal clear that they wanted him back.

And as the free agency period dragged on, the Celtics - at least in their words - never hedged from that position.

In the end, those words were put into action. 

"Keeping Marcus in a Celtics uniform was a top priority, said Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations. "His intensity is unmatched, and the level of toughness that he brings to the team throughout the course of the entire season is second to none."

Smart acknowledged that the process became a bit frustrating at times.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up at,” Smart said.

And while that uncertainty was difficult to deal with, Smart actually looks back upon the experience and describes it as “a fun thing.”

“As frustrating as it is,” Smart added, “not many people in the world can say that they’re in talks to play for an NBA team, to make a dream become a reality. Being able to do things they never imagined they would be able to do. This whole time, even with everything going on, me not knowing where I could end up, it was still fun, exciting for me.”

And those fun, exciting times will continue for the longest-tenured member of the Celtics.

“Boston loves me, I love Boston. Boston wants me to be here, I want to be here,” Smart said. “I am here so, we made it work.”

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

1:32 - Marcus Smart is back! Michael Holley, Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta discuss the 4-year, $52 million deal the guard signed with the Celtics on Thursday and debate whether or not he’s worth the money.

7:36 - According to Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, the issues between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady haven’t been resolved, but then we have Danny Amendola on Barstool’s “Comeback Szn Podcast” disputing this. Phil Perry, Tom Giles and Michael Holley try to make some sense of it all.

12:49 - After J.D. Martinez said that this Red Sox team is like a family, it has Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta wondering if the club has an identity and what that might be.

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