The deadline for extending Marcus Smart is about to pass and reports are that it won’t get done, so here are the options going forward. The team will likely not discuss the terms on a future contract during the season.
This seems unlikely, unless the team has simply decided that Kyrie Irving is the future and they don’t want to invest heavily in another guard. Smart won’t have a ton of trade value unless he excels in the early season, but as a 23 year old mid-sized expiring contract entering RFA with a history of playing at an acceptably high level, every team could find some reason to want to move for him.
While I don’t expect an open dialogue during the season, the team can speak with Smart’s camp all year and will seriously engage as soon as the season ends. We’ve seen in the past with players like Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder that they’re willing to let the player reach restricted free agency but then come to terms before they truly hit the market. This seems the most likely way for this to play out.
Match an Offer Sheet
If he does make it to the point of speaking to other teams he could find a tough market. If he has a breakout season the Celtics would be looking to tie him down quickly so the situation where he’s soliciting offers is more likely one where he has a good-but-not-great year. The market will be tough for players like that, and looks particularly difficult for point guards, so the offers he gets will depend largely on how the early unrestricted free agency period goes. If a rebuilding team without a long-term PG solution finds themselves with free cap space, they could offer it to Smart. If not, I would look at a competitive team with the full MLE to gauge his interest. The Celtics would be happy to have him back at that number, I think.
The problem with matching a mid-sized contract is getting a mid-sized contract offer. Teams aren’t too excited to tie up their MLE or a useful sized slice of cap room on a player they expect to be matched. That can give the incumbent team quite a lot of leverage. That sometimes ends with a re-signing late in the offseason, like whichever Plumlee ended up back in Denver. The threat of accepting the qualifying offer sometimes makes these deal more “fair” or player friendly than expected, if the situation gets this far.
To make Smart restricted, the Celtics have to first offer him a one year $6M contract. That offer stays on the table until the player signs a deal with someone, or October 1 (unless the team chooses to extend it). Taking the qualifying offer would be a tough pill to swallow and it can poison the future relationship between he team and player. However, it does happen to someone just about every year, and with league-wide cap sheets looking like they’ll be more player friendly in 2019 than 2018 we can’t rule it out.
Lost in Free Agency
Just because a player is restricted doesn’t necessarily mean he’s coming back. If Marcus has a good season and any single team with cap space sees a player they want to invest in it could get ugly. The Celtics have a long-term tax dilemma with three high-priced stars and multiple high-upside (skill and $ wise) young players. Even if they think Irving and Smart is their backcourt for the long haul, can the team invest half the salary cap in just those two? If a strong season leads to a $20M/year offer that would be the decision put to the front office.
Lost Due to Injury/Performance
No one ever wants this, but not coming to terms on an agreement does expose Marcus to some risk. A catastrophic injury or very poor season could leave him out in the contract cold, without even a qualifying offer. It’s hard to see that happening today, but sometimes bad luck strikes.
The sign-and-trade market largely disappeared over the past few years with abundant cap space making the deals unnecessary. As space dries up, these come back into play. Marcus’s skills could appeal to a lot of good teams who are unlikely to have space. If the Celtics decide that they can’t make the long-term investment in Smart after a strong season, they could look to recoup some lost value by helping him get to a good team instead of a poor one with cap room. The Celtics wouldn’t get much in this scenario, but a player with one more year on their deal (to match money) and a middling pick isn’t out of the question.
Before the Kyrie trade I pegged the mid-point in Smart extension talks at 4/$56M, but did not think that Boston would get particularly close to that or that they would reach an agreement. Following the acquisition of Irving I thought the odds went down even further as the “upside” position for the Celtics signing Smart, not retaining Isaiah, and then installing Smart as the starting PG in 2018-19 went away.
Where this goes from here depends primarily on how Marcus performs this season, of course. If he stays healthy and follows a reasonable upward trend for a PG his age, I would guess that he sticks with the team through the season and then re-signs early in July for an amount moderately above the MLE.To get as much as he probably wants would take a breakout season to convince one of the few teams with cap space to invest in him, hold onto their space through unrestricted free agency, and risk tying it up only to watch Boston match. The Celtics hold a strong hand, but it’s within Smart’s power to play well enough to change that.