The ‘risky’ move that unlocked Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics

THE WEDDING PLANS were made months in advance. Long before the Boston Celtics stormed back from a 3-0 deficit to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, only to blow Game 7 at home. Long before the team’s front office had to take stock of another disappointing season that ended agonizingly close, but still short, of the franchise’s 18th NBA championship. Long before the idea of trading former Defensive Player of the Year and heart-and-soul of the team, Marcus Smart, ever became an option.

When Smart and his fiancee Maisa Hallum set September 16 as the date for their wedding at the posh Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach, California, the idea was to be surrounded by family, friends and basically everyone from the Celtics organization that had drafted him No. 6 overall in 2014 and helped him grow into the player and man he is today.

The setting on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean was majestic. Surrounded by beautiful, manicured lawns, white flowers adorned the aisle and the gazebo. Guests at the resort stayed in villas and bungalows. The pool — an ode to the Coliseum in Rome. Everything about the place screams grand.

But by the time the RSVP cards were due, the entire dynamic had changed. Boston had worn down over the seven-game series with the Heat, unable to counter Miami’s switching defense and blazing-hot 3-point shooting (43% in the series, 48% in their wins).

Smart hadn’t been the problem for Boston, but the idea of acquiring a floor-spacing big man that teams had to respect as a threat in the post had become a necessity.

And so the beginning of Smart’s married life became the final scene of the Marcus Smart Era with the Celtics.

“It was kind of like saying goodbye right before the season started,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum told ESPN of the lavish wedding. “It was really tough. Jaylen [Brown], Smart and I had been to four Conference Finals and one Finals. We just been through so much together. It was like the band was breaking up.”

Tatum, Brown and Grant Williams were at the wedding. So was Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck. Even head coach Joe Mazzulla and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens showed up and struck an epic pose in the photo booth.

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Photos from the event were published by People Magazine and quickly went viral, agitating Boston fans still reeling from the stunning three-team trade on June 23 that had sent Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for center Kristaps Porzingis. It was, the thinking went, a cold, analytics-driven trade, made by an increasingly analytics-focused franchise.

Porizingis had shot a career-high 39 percent from behind the 3-point arc with the Washington Wizards. But having a good year on a team that goes 35-47 doesn’t change long-standing narratives. And Porzingis’ had never quite lived up to the promise he’d shown as a rookie in New York, when none other than Kevin Durant dubbed him “a unicorn.”

Smart had spent the better part of the past decade building his reputation as the Celtics’ locker-room leader and their defensive backbone. He was also Brown’s closest friend on the team. The move for Porzingis was bold, but Stevens and the Celtics believed the moment called for it.

Twenty-five days after their crushing playoff loss, the seventh in the Brown-Tatum era, and amid the annual whispers of whether to break up the wing tandem, the Celtics pivoted — hard — away from a player they always believed they needed, toward a player they never knew they did.

“I’m a big believer that whatever a narrative is on someone when they’re 19 or 22 or even 24, you just kind of keep following them and just let them develop and let them grow,” Stevens told ESPN.

And like a real estate developer looking at a house with good bones that could use a remodel, he had a vision for what Porzingis could be in the right situation.

“This was risky,” he says. “But as [assistant coach] Jay Laranaga used to tell me, ‘If we’re not trying to improve, we’ll stop being good.'”


THE FIT WAS so good early on that Tatum started comparing Porzingis’ role with the Celtics to that of Pau Gasol, who in 2008 was traded to the Lakers to team up with Kobe Bryant. It was a duo that led LA to titles in 2009 and 2010.

“Kobe really needed Pau for those last two championships that they won together,” Tatum says. “Whatever path that I’m on and we’re on, KP really feels like the missing piece.”

Porzingis was 3,000 miles away when the trade went through, training in gyms across Spain. He knew enough about Smart’s importance to the Celtics, his leadership, his defense, the mutual love between player and city, to understand how big of a gamble the team was taking by trading for him.

“I didn’t know it was going to be [Smart] in the trade, but seeing what they were going to give up for me, I realized that ‘OK, they really wanted me,'” he told ESPN. “That means that they expect a lot from me, also. So I have to show up.”

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