Heading into his fourth professional season, Marcus Smart is due a contract extension. At the end of the 2017-18 season, Smart and other members of the 2014 NBA Draft class become restricted free agents or RFA’s. Other teams can extend RFA’s offer sheets, which they can sign if they want, but their current team retains the right to match any offer and bring that player back.
However, members of that 2014 class can get their new contracts finalized before next summer. Teams have until October 16th, the day before the regular season, to sign players on the final year of their rookie contracts to extensions. So far, Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins is the only player eligible that has reportedly agreed to a rookie extension at five-years $145 million. So it begs the question, should the Celtics extend Smart when training camp comes to a close?
Signing a player to a big extension is always a risk. In Smart’s case, he’s put in the time and work to give the Celtics confidence that his best days are ahead of him. Smart has lost 20 pounds this offseason, and seems to have improved his jump shot (fingers crossed). With an increased role this season due to the departures of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Avery Bradley, Smart is poised to have a breakout year.
If the Celtics can agree to a deal with Smart that both sides feel is a fair price before the season starts, it’s more likely to be a bargain deal for Boston than not. If the Celtics let Smart play it out and he improves the way fans hope, it’s very possible that Boston pays a premium next summer.
While the 2014 draft class was extremely talented, it hasn’t turned out exactly how it was expected to. While players like Wiggins and Nikola Jokic are in for big paydays, the market on the remaining players eligible is still up in the air. Smart has the second highest value over replacement (VORP) out of all the players drafted in ‘14 behind only Jokic. If the Celtics wait too long, lesser players could score big contracts, forcing Boston to pay more than they’d like.
At the moment, the Celtics no longer have any cap space after signing Gordon Hayward and trading for Kyrie Irving. Boston has Smart’s Bird Rights and can bring him back at any price as long as they are comfortable paying the luxury tax. There is no way to know how Celtics ownership views that situation, but retaining Smart’s services at a fair amount is definitely the better outcome for the team’s financial outlook.
Smart is one of four returning players from last year’s team and has become a fan favorite in Boston during his time. Locking him up before the 10/16 deadline would eliminate any questions about Smart’s future with the team. The four-year veteran will likely have a large part to do with the new-look Celtics discovering their identity as a unit and securing him long term could significantly benefit team morale.
According to Keith Smith’s NBA salary cap sheets, he projects five teams to have cap space next summer (Hawks, Bulls, Mavericks, Lakers, Pacers), depressing the market for RFA’s. There are two important things to note regarding Smart signing an offer sheet:
1) The team offering will likely give a high salary to try and scare off the Celtics, and if Smart signs, that cap space is tied up until Boston decides to match or not. Smart is a very good player, but I wouldn’t expect teams to tie up cap with him while players like LeBron James, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins are available. This way, the Celtics could wait it out and bring back Smart to a price tag that they’re more comfortable with. While that sounds like a pretty cold decision, Boston has the right to do that if Smart doesn’t receive large offer sheets.
2) Waiting until the summer also gives Boston a full season to determine Smart’s value with this new roster. There’s a chance that Smart either plateaus or regresses in his development and it’s possible that he doesn’t fit with the core of Irving-Hayward-Horford. I don’t think either of these possibilities will happen, but stranger things have occurred.
Boston might not mind paying the full price for Smart if he shows them improvement this year. Insuring their investment by letting the season play out could be the best course of action if the Celtics aren’t set on how they value what Smart brings to the table. Also, it is important to note that the Celtics traded Bradley instead of Smart to clear cap space for Hayward. If Boston wasn’t sure about Smart, it’s likely they would have just let him go then and resigned Bradley at the end of the year.
As one of the more important players on the Celtics for the last three years, Smart deserves a nice contract extension where he can continue to help Boston accomplish their goals of winning Banner 18. However, the Celtics’ luxury tax situation and the overall market for RFA’s next summer leave his status up to interpretation.
So what do you think? Should the Celtics sign Smart before the 10/16 deadline and get it over with or wait until summer?
When should the Celtics extend Smart?
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