Marcus Smart talks Grizzlies fit, building relationship with Ja Morant

LAS VEGAS -- Once Marcus Smart got over the initial shock of being traded by the Boston Celtics, he felt a sense of exhilarated anticipation for his next destination.

"I'm excited to start a new journey in my life and in my basketball career, and what better way to than to be in a city where it fits me perfectly?" Smart told ESPN before his introductory news conference Friday as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. "Grind City. I'm a grinder; that's what I do."

Smart, a key ingredient of the Celtics' rebuild and emergence as a perennial contender during his nine seasons in Boston, smiled as he discussed following in the footsteps of former All-Defensive mainstay Tony Allen, who also played for Oklahoma State and Boston before becoming a mainstay in Memphis. It was Allen who coined the "Grit 'n Grind" slogan for that era of the Grizzlies, a mentality Smart intends to bring to a talented Memphis team that desperately needed some veteran leadership.

The Grizzlies acquired Smart in a three-team trade that delivered Kristaps Porzingis to the Celtics, with Memphis sending point guard Tyus Jones to the Washington Wizards and a pair of first-round picks to Boston. Hours after a three-team deal that would have sent Boston's Malcolm Brogdon to the LA Clippers fell apart, the Grizzlies pounced to acquire Smart, who general manager Zach Kleiman said sat atop his "pie-in-the-sky" potential trade targets this summer on the heels of Memphis' first-round playoff exit.

"We took a step back coming out of this last season and said, what are the things that we're looking to add in this group? You put out the boxes that you're trying to check," Kleiman said. "We're looking for someone who can be the lockdown defender, versatile across positions. We're looking for more playmaking. We're looking for someone who's battle-tested at the highest levels of the NBA. [We were able] to find someone -- and I don't think there's many players in the NBA and I think Marcus is the very best of them -- who kind of checks all those boxes.

"But much more importantly, somebody who also just passes the gut test. Marcus is someone that is just a flat-out winner."

Added Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins: "For me it was, 'Yes! Let's blankin' go!' I was fired up. ... We've got a great competitive group that needs more juice to get us to the next level, and that's what Marcus is going to do for us."

Smart, 29, the 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year, has 108 games of playoff experience that includes five trips to the Eastern Conference finals and an NBA Finals appearance. He joins a Memphis core that features 23-year-old All-Stars Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. and 25-year-old Desmond Bane, who is fresh off signing a five-year, $207 million maximum contract extension.

Smart shied away from declaring himself a leader in the Grizzlies' locker room, although it's a role the organization hopes he can fill following a turbulent recent stretch in which Morant has twice been suspended by the NBA, including for the first 25 games of the 2023-24 season.

Morant texted immediately after the trade to welcome Smart, who will start at point guard in his absence before playing alongside the superstar, to the organization. Smart said he believes his experience can help Morant in a lot of ways but intends to grow their relationship organically, earning Morant's trust as they get to know each other, an approach Smart will take with all of his new teammates.

"I've got to earn these guys' trust," said Smart, who averaged 11.5 points, 6.3 assists and 1.5 steals last season. "In Boston, I was there. I was the longest-tenured guy. I grew up with those guys. Here, I'm a new face coming in, although I have some experience on me. But as competitors, you see a new guy coming in, guys aren't just going to give me their attention right away. They're going to have to earn it. And that's what I expect to do.

"Ja is a very special player, very special player, and he's very important to the team. For us to do anything great, we're going to need Ja, and we're going to need Ja to be the best he can be. So for me as a competitor, I love to push guys to the limit, especially a guy who's great."