By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics negotiated against themselves — and negotiated against themselves hard — by re-signing restricted free agent Marcus Smart to a four-year deal worth over $50 million.
Now, don’t twist that as me saying that the 24-year-old Smart is not a necessity for Brad Stevens and the Celtics. Or saying that he is anything but a good fit for what the Celtics have been and hope to be in pursuit of their 18th NBA championship.
It’s just that this is a deal that Ainge did not need to make right now. Or any point this summer, for that matter.
It became painfully apparent that Smart did not have a market this summer.
I mean, look beyond the fact that Smart and his agent had to lug themselves to Las Vegas in the middle of July and take in Summer League action in some dimly-lit gym just to remind teams that Smart was still unsigned and on the open market.
When the Sacramento Kings were rumored to be preparing an offer sheet to throw Smart’s way, it was met with an almost immediate denial from those tapped into the Kings. As if they were offended by the mere thought. The Brooklyn Nets and Memphis Grizzlies allegedly had interest in a sign-and-trade, and given the way the Celtics had taken them to task in previous trades, Ainge probably would have salivated over the thought of accumulating additional assets. But nothing — and I mean nothing — happened on that front. Even when Smart’s camp was pictured chatting it up with the Nets in Vegas.
It seemed obvious that the $6 million qualifying offer the Celtics had on the table — one that would allow Smart to take a one-year gamble on himself and have potential negotiation advantages in 2019 — was becoming Smart’s best (and only) option.
Everybody in the world seemed to know this.
That made waiting it out until Smart’s camp accepted this fate seem like an inevitability and another win for Ainge, an exceutive that has straight-up refused to lose anything since the botched Perkins trade that robbed the C’s of a 2011 title. This ‘cold’ approach with Smart would not even be something considered exclusive to Ainge this summer, as the Rockets have apparently taken the same approach with Clint Capela. (I don’t think it’s merely foolish hot takery to suggest that Capela was better and more important to his team’s success than Smart was last season. In bigger spots and moments, too.)
And not maximizing the tools given to you — in any situation — seems like the antithesis of Ainge The Executive.
But the Celtics have instead locked themselves in for four more years of Smart.
That, again, is not the worst endgame. Smart is a tenacious defender and key reserve for this team. He’s absolutely a piece you want to have on your team in the now, especially if the Celtics are able to play up to their expectations and have a fourth-round showdown against a backcourt combo such as Steph Curry-Klay Thompson or Chris Paul-James Harden. You’ve already seen what Smart, who is a straight-up behemoth in terms of size and strength for a guard, can do against both teams. And if the cap goes up as much as everybody expects it to, perhaps Year Three and Four of Smart is actually under market value. Or just maybe Smart’s $13 million per year salary eventually helps in the C’s pursuit of the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis.
If we’re keeping this to strictly today, though, I just have to question why Smart’s payday is happening right now.
The Celtics are in an undeniably odd spot, as they are a championship contender loaded at the point, but only in the short term; Kyrie Irving can opt out of his current deal and run to the Knicks in 2019 (some feel like that is a more than legitimate possibility), that one-year qualifying offer for Smart would have made him a UFA next season as mentioned, and Terry Rozier is slated to become a restricted free agent next summer. Having a one-year battle between Smart and Rozier — all while trying to convince Irving that he should stay with the Celtics, who have positioned themselves to be a juggernaut for the next five years if everybody’s healthy and happy — would not have been the worst move when it came to incentivizing performance.
In fact, it would have brought the best out of both Smart and Rozier. That is… relatively important, you’d think.
Let’s not forget that Marcus Smart used to be just plain out of shape. It wasn’t until last summer, as Smart was entering a contract year, that Smart took his craft seriously and slimmed down. Even slimmed down, though, Smart didn’t drastically improve his offensive game, and was still one of the most offensive chuckers the game had to offer a season ago. Even after one of his worst performances of the season — and one that ended the Celtics’ season, making the ’18 Celtics the first team in franchise history to blow a 2-0 series lead — Smart raved about his worth, as if to say his performance was good enough.
[Narrator’s voice: It wasn’t.]
Now with his worth established for the next four years, the Celtics are in a spot where they no longer have an ounce of power.
If Smart balloons back up to 250 pounds, what could the Celtics possibly do? Yell at him and tell him to get back on his Mediterranean diet? The card will still work at whatever late-night drive-thru is open at the end of their road trip, so that’s not a real threat. If he continues to brick shots at a borderline historic pace, what’s the Celtics’ possible course of action besides pleading with him not to shoot like he’s a star? The check stills clear, so who cares if the shots don’t?
These are of course the doomsday scenarios with Smart, and could very well be a thing of the past. And in his defense, this contract will never be Luol Deng bad, but you have to feel as if the concerns are not exactly unwarranted. I mean, that’s why the Celtics were content with sitting back and letting this process play out as recently as a week ago in the first place.
So, putting yourself in that position of worrying about those factors when you legitimately did not have to? That just doesn’t seem like the Ainge we’ve become accustomed to seeing wheel and deal the C’s back to a position of relevance in today’s NBA.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. 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.