According to Marc Stein, the Denver Nuggets have engaged in some exploratory conversations with the Boston Celtics about acquiring guard Marcus Smart.

Emmanuel Mudiay being available is not a surprise, and neither is Boston wanting more than a non-rotation guard for one who is very much in their rotation. That doesn’t mean Denver cannot complete a trade for a player like Smart without including a first-rounder, but it’s going to take the right match. Danny Ainge likes to hold out for maximum value and has gotten what he wants enough that it looks like the right move to do so.

Tim Connelly, Arturas Karnisovas and the rest of the Denver brass are similarly loathe to give up too much for a bench piece who is about to hit free agency. They had this dilemma when they traded Jusuf Nurkic and a first rounder for Mason Plumlee. The idea was to get more cost-certainty out of Plumlee’s next deal, but instead he signed for 3 years and $41 million. With the extension for Gary Harris kicking in this offseason, as well as some drama about just how to max out Nikola Jokic (which could add another $25-ish million a year to Denver’s salary structure as soon as this coming offseason as well) the Nuggets have to be careful about what they pay their roleplayers around the core.

That said, Marcus Smart is an ill-tempered wildebeest on defense who can aggressively guard three positions despite being a terrible shooter (29.3% from three-point range in his career and just 41.8% from two). ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus rates him as an average starting defender at point guard the last two years after being a plus one the previous two, but judging PG defense via metrics is tricky, especially with the assignments Smart draws up and down the lineup against bigger men. He averages the same amount of assists-per-36 minutes that Mudiay does as well, there’s no real change there.

Denver needs someone who can stop incursions into the paint by opposing point guards, but how much should they pay for that? Andre Roberson for the Oklahoma City Thunder was a similar defender and was in a lot of plus lineups for the Thunder despite being an obvious liability on his own at the offensive end. The Celtics have an offensive rating of 110.1 with Smart on the floor and given up only a 103.9 rating on the other end. Their offensive rating stays about the same without him (110.3) but they give up a 106.5 rating without him. Whatever his failings individually, Smart has been a boon to the Celtics in many of his lineup combinations – which is unfortunately the opposite of what has happened to Mudiay.

Mudiay’s shooting has improved at the free throw line and from the three-point arc throughout his career, but unfortunately his finishes from two-point range have remained stagnated about where Smart’s are (which is to say in a land warded by skulls on sticks to hold off curses). RPM hates his game, as do most advanced stats, but you can still see the glimmers of real potential that have haunted him throughout his career. At this point a change in scenery might be the thing he needs to propel him toward a long NBA career, and Brad Stevens is one of the best options for Emmanuel to help him harness that game and put him in the right situations to succeed.

But none of that matters if the Celtics want multiple body parts and blood oaths – not to mention a first round pick – to seal any sort of deal. It’s the sort of deal where one team waits for the other to blink first, and Ainge has eyes like a snake. It would be good for both players, but I’m not sure either team buys in to those players enough to make that deal happen the way the other team wants.

Hey Boston, don’t you remember this game? This is the guy Denver is offering you, so hurry up and complete the trade before someone else snaps him up.

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