Boston Celtics

By Ty Anderson,

Marcus Smart, currently twisting in the winds of restricted free agency, is in one of the stranger spots in recent memory.

By now, two weeks into free agency and without an offer sheet thrown Smart’s way, it’s clear both he and his camp overvalued his worth on the open market. And that’s not to say that Smart’s game — one based off hustle, irritation, and a dogged defensive determination that’s tough for most to match in the regular season — isn’t worth something. It’s just that people clearly aren’t valuing it the way that Smart thought they would. And it’s a confirmation that it’s a style that’s awfully tough to successfully convert it to a dollar amount that will appease Smart and (Not So) Happy Walters.

Even the Celtics, who have repeatedly praised Smart and said how badly they want him back next season, have found themselves in a tricky spot when trying to determine the monetary value of what No. 36 brings to the court.

So much so that they’ve completely resigned themselves to the idea of kicking back and letting another team come at the 24-year-old Smart with an offer sheet — if one ever comes — to determine their move with the ‘heartbeat’ of their team.

Which is why Smart accepting the one-year qualifying offer the Celtics have on the table makes the most sense for everybody.

For the Celtics, the immediate future begins and ends with the decision made by Kyrie Irving, who can opt out of his current contract with the Celtics and join a potentially loaded free agent class next summer.

This uncertainty actually helps Smart.

The Celtics are essentially at the mercy of Irving, who seems like a lock to opt out and could perhaps bolt to the Knicks, for all of next summer and into the first week of July 2019. You could make the case that they’re at his mercy right now, even, as Irving’s lack of an on-record commitment looms over this club’s summer in a major way. Of course, there’s just as great a chance of Irving staying as there is of him leaving. There’s simply no way of knowing which way Irving is leaning or will lean, and the seemingly constant stream of conflicting reports this summer shouldn’t be enough to tilt you one way or the other.

But if Irving is indeed infatuated with the idea of a homecoming and the allure of revitalizing the Knicks, Smart becomes infinitely more valuable than he was before Irving left. That’s because Smart would effectively become Boston’s starting point guard by default. He would also finally be in a position of strength over the C’s when it came to his next contract.

And he is most definitely not in one of those right now.

Among the teams rumored to have an interest in Smart this offseason? The Sacramento Kings, the Brooklyn Nets, and Memphis Grizzles. Those three teams combined for 77 wins last season… just 22 more than the Celtics. The Nets’ rebuild is a painful one thanks to Danny Ainge raiding their cupboard years ago, and the Celtics own future first-round picks of both the Kings and Grizzlies. There’s no real reason for the fiercely competitive Smart to go to those cities, especially on a big money deal that the Celtics would not match and could become an albatross that by all means traps Smart in a garbage scenario. Also: Those teams have expressed interest, sure, but they’ve also done nothing to actually move things forward with Smart.

This brings you to the second-biggest reason why Smart should take a one-year gamble on himself in Boston: opportunity.

If and when Smart returns to Boston on a one-year deal, he will be on a team that’s considered to be the class of the Eastern Conference and the odds-on favorite to find themselves playing in the 2019 NBA Finals thanks to LeBron’s move to the West. The 6-foot-4 Smart would play a big role, too, as the club’s sixth man and go-to reserve guard. That’s a lot of on-TV exposure, and a strong playoff run can go a long way in the summer, as Kelly ‘$50 Million From Miami’ Olynyk confirmed in 2017.

That’s something that should appeal to Smart for obvious reasons.

Finishing last season by playing through a (largely self-inflicted) thumb injury, Smart was not at his best.

In fact, his already-limited offensive game went out the window upon his return; Smart was one of 24 players to throw up at least 65 attempted threes in the playoffs, and his 22.1 percent conversation rate was the lowest in the league. Smart also shot a horrendous 2-for-18 from behind the arc in Boston’s elimination games… but kept on chucking up shots at an alarming rate.

Although that woeful percentage was in line with what Smart accomplished during the regular season — Smart’s 30.1 conversion percentage from deep ranked 116 out of 119 players with at least 245 three-point attempts — Smart could of course blame his shooting woes on a bum thumb and instead hope that his luck changes on another one-year run in Boston.

Lost in all of this, too, is that Smart would hit the open market in 2019 as an unrestricted free agent.

Although Smart would be in an aforementioned loaded free agent class, he would also be just one of two unrestricted free agent point guards hitting the market at 25 (Elfrid Payton is slated to be the other). Smart would also be in the same market as the equally-annoying defensive guard Patrick Beverley (who has to prove he can still be an effective nuisance after last year’s knee injury), meaning that there will be a market for Smart based on those that miss out on Beverley or vice versa.

There’s just no way that a potential 2019 move into free agency doesn’t come with more options — both in suitors, money, and potential positions of strength and leverage against the Celtics — than 2018’s disappointing jump for the mercurial guard.

Though that’s clearly not saying much.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.