By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Heading into this offseason, Marcus Smart had designs on making a whole lot of money. So far, those dreams have yet to come true.
And while free-agent deals will continue to be signed in the coming days and weeks, most of the big-money deals have already been handed out. All the while, the Celtics and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have apparently yet to make an offer to Smart, who’s a restricted free agent. That’s something that’s reportedly left the Celtics’ longest-tenured player feeling a bit hurt.
“He loves the Celtics, but with these crickets he’s hearing, he’s hurt and disgusted by it,” someone in Smart’s camp told Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald.
The Celtics did issue a $6 million qualifying offer to Smart, which gives the Celtics the freedom to match any offers made from other teams on Smart. But beyond that, the Celtics have let Smart freely explore his market, such as it is.
“He’s just hurt and frustrated that Danny hasn’t reached out,” the unnamed member of Smart’s camp told Murphy. “That’s the most discouraging part of this whole thing. The last contact was a few days before free agency started.”
The 24-year-old Smart, who was the first lottery pick in this current rebuild of the Celtics when he was taken sixth overall in 2014, averaged 10.2 points per game on 36.7 percent shooting (30.1 percent from 3-point range) along with 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 steals during the regular season. In the playoffs, he averaged 9.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He missed a month after “swiping” a glass picture frame in his hotel room after missing a buzzer-beater in Los Angeles, and he further injured his thumb after returning and missed more than a month, including the start of the postseason.
In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland, Smart shot 1-for-10 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3-point range. In that game, Smart, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown combined to shoot 8-for-42 (19.0 percent) from the field and 3-for-26 (11.5 percent) from 3-point range.
The stats, though, never tell the full story of Smart and the impact he can have on games. Whether it’s taking a charge, or grabbing an offensive rebound over men 6 inches taller than him, or diving to the floor for a loose ball, Smart undoubtedly makes winning plays. A good team needs someone like Smart on the roster. But his career field goal percentage of 36 percent, and his career 29.3 percent mark from 3-point range is likely keeping most teams away from offering the “more than $12-14 million” that he declared himself worthy of, following the Celtics’ season-ending loss.
It’s worth noting that Ainge tried to avoid this entire situation last year, when he spent part of the offseason trying to negotiate a fair extension with Smart that would have eliminated this restricted free agency. The two sides couldn’t reach a deal, and Smart’s agent — Happy Walters — ripped the Celtics for going low with their offers.
“If they want someone to take a discount, maybe it should be someone who has already made $150 million in their career, not someone who is just up and coming,” Walters told the Herald in October, adding that owner Wyc Grousbeck refused to cross the luxury tax threshold in order to get a deal with Smart done.
Ainge stated publicly that Smart was an important part of the team and was a player the Celtics hoped to keep for years to come. But Walters said that by failing to agree to a fair deal last year, it would end up costing the Celtics more money in the long run.
“It will cost them a lot more then, I can tell you that,” Walters stated definitively.
Though the final ruling on that statement cannot yet be made, so far it’s the Celtics who appear to have properly gauged the market on Smart, while Walters may have overestimated just what kind of action his player might receive on an open market.