BOSTON — Traditionally, point guards are like quarterbacks. As valuable as the position is, a team can’t really play two players in that role at the same time without creating some serious continuity issues.
Marcus Smart’s selection by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft therefore had a little of a Jimmy Garoppolo feel. If the New England Patriots’ selection of Garoppolo was a clear sign the team is preparing for life without Tom Brady, then the Celtics drafting Smart signals the beginning of the end for Rajon Rondo in Boston, right?
Without question, Smart’s selection makes it more palatable for the Celtics to bid farewell to Rondo, either in a trade or as a free agent next summer. Although Smart is more of a scorer than Rondo and much more of a backcourt bruiser at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he does overlap with Rondo is certain areas. Neither is known for his jump shot, and each is best with the ball in his hands. Smart is a hyper-competitive alpha dog whose intensity has gotten him in trouble at times — the same qualities Rondo has displayed en route to multiple All-Star appearances.
Yet Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck, who observed much of the first round from the team’s war room at TD Garden, claimed drafting Smart was not part of a larger plan to dismantle the last of the 2008 NBA championship squad.
“You know what’s interesting? That wasn’t a topic of conversation (Thursday),” Grousbeck said, regarding how Smart’s presence affects Rondo’s future. “We have confidence in Brad (Stevens) that he can manage a roster. We also had confidence that of the top six, we would take the best available player rather than try to slot in. That’s the strategy when you’re rebuilding a team. You take the best available and you let it all work out. We’ve got an All-Star point guard, so that’s not in question here.”
Grousbeck added, “I don’t think this has any impact on Rajon at all.”
The Celtics’ philosophy on taking the best available player is the right one. If management (and fans) have as much confidence in Stevens as they claim to, they have to trust that Stevens can fold two similar, yet different, lead guards into his system. Lineups with two point guards have become en vogue, as evidenced by the Utah Jazz using their first pick on Dante Exum, despite already having second-year guard Trey Burke on their roster. At the very least, having too many good players would be a luxury Stevens did not enjoy last season.
And if someone is moved, it doesn’t necessarily need to be Rondo. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said conversations among teams were “a lot more” active in the hours leading up to this year’s draft, despite the lack of picks actually changing hands. Presumably, the same players would be just as attractive post-draft as they were before it.
Just as Grousbeck cautioned that “trade season is not over yet,” Ainge warned the Celtics using their picks did not mean they are done trying to make deals this offseason. Until the trade deadline next February, any team will be able to make an offer for Kevin Love, for instance, or any other player who might interest them.
“I think our initial goal, when the season ended, was to try to expedite the rebuilding process,” Ainge said. “I don’t think by taking six and 17 that that is ended. We’ve always been comfortable with six and 17. We knew that was the most likely scenario. We can’t rush something that’s not there. We’ve made efforts to expedite and will continue throughout the summer and just see what opportunities are there. We’ll try to remain opportunistic.”