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CelticsBlog exit interview: Marcus Smart

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Reviewing the past, present, and future of Marcus Smart with the Boston Celtics.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

If Marcus Smart stays with the Boston Celtics beyond this off-season, then Marcus Smart will continue to be who he is at this point. He’s one of the worst shooters in NBA history. He has the tendency to turn into a turnover machine at the worst times. He has, on occasion, shot selection that would make J.R. Smith and Kobe Bryant blush. He has anger issues that occasionally affect his on-court production (looking at you, picture frame). He’s this:

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

He’s also this:

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Not to mention the fact that he’s this:

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

And you know what? I want him on my team more than anything. For all of his mistakes and his shortcomings, Marcus Smart more than makes up for it. Yes, he’s one of the worst shooters in the NBA, but he also can make them when they count. On top of that, whoever he’s guarding can turn into a 30% shooter on a given night.

Sure, he’s a turnover machine at inopportune times, but he’s also one of 3 players on the 2017-18 active roster that can successfully complete a pick-and-roll consistently. Yeah, he has shot selection that would make even the most conscience-less gunners in NBA history blush, but he also creates extra shots by getting crucial offensive rebounds at the most important moments of the game. He might punch a picture frame or two, but he also owns prime waterfront real estate in James Harden’s head.

That’s the kind of guy you want on your team. Marcus Smart is arguably the most polarizing figure on this young Celtics team (let me know if you find the irony in that sentence). Whether or not you want him back next season likely is a result of what you value in basketball. If you’re a box score fan who values that sort of thing, you’ll likely think the Smart is replaceable. You likely think that the Marcus Smart Experience isn’t worth all of the ill-advised 3-pointers and poorly-timed turnovers.

If you’re a “winning plays” guy like myself, you’ll be rooting for the Celtics to do whatever it takes to keep Smart. I contend that enduring through the poorly-timed 3-pointers and ill-advised turnovers make the game-winning and game-altering plays more enjoyable. Maybe I’m crazy for enjoying that kind of torture, but it sure feels like something a lot better than torture when nights like that improbable comeback against Houston come around. I’ll settle for being crazy if it means I get to keep watching Marcus Smart suit up for the Celtics.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

This past season, Marcus Smart, who had us calling him Diet Cobra at the beginning of the season after his well-documented adoption of a Mediterranean diet, averaged 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He shot 37% from the field, 30% from beyond the arc and 73% from the free-throw line. He played in a career-low 54 games after two significantly covered hand injuries. One was a result of his extra-curricular outbursts, and one was an example of the “winning plays” that we rave about. The stark difference between these two similar injuries is the Marcus Smart experience in itself. Live by the Smarf (not a typo), die by the Smarf.

In the postseason while battling the weighty situation of his mother’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, Smart admirably put together 9.8 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.7 rebounds on 34/22/74 shooting splits. To be fair, his playoff shooting percentages should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the fact that he had, essentially, one working thumb. He was a big part of two pivotal Game 5’s, one of which I got to witness live at the TD Garden (10/10 experience, would recommend). He went down swinging in Game 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, even when other players seemed overwhelmed in the moment.

If you’re looking for box score improvements from Year 3 to Year 4 for Smart, you’re not going to find anything significant. Many of his numbers are regressions, and his FG% and 3FG% are only slightly better than last year. But if you’re looking for box score improvements, you’re missing the point. Next season, there’s a chance Smart’s box score numbers continue to decrease, especially if the team keeps Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris. As long as his plays continue to lead to wins, that’s what matters. As Smart approaches free agency this summer, we’ll see how much both he and the organization value winning.

Marcus Smart has mentioned that he’s “worth more” than $12-14 million per year, and maybe he is. If he were a free agent last year and definitely two years ago, he’d be facing Danny Ainge with an offer sheet signed for an offer of perhaps $18 million per year, something the Celtics would be hard-pressed to match. However, he’s looking for an offer sheet in 2018, which is tremendously bad timing for him. I don’t see anyone valuing Smart enough to sign an offer sheet for more than the Celtics will match.

Even a contract that looks like $12 million per year over four years ($48 million total) would be something that I see Boston matching, though the Celtics would rather get him closer to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception price of $36 million over four years. Smart likely would be disappointed with that, but that’s just the reality of the situation.

If you’d be frustrated with that price range, don’t sweat it too much. Much has been made of the Celtics being subject to the repeater tax down the line, but that doesn’t kick in until Year 5, with the team being a tax-paying team in 3 of the 4 previous year. With this in mind, the earliest the Celtics will be subject to the repeater tax is 2022. Lots will change in between now and then, and I’m willing to bet that the Celtics will be raising Banner 18 before even having to worry about that. If you have the chance to win a championship, the bottom line is that paying that tax is worth it. Ownership has shown themselves willing to spend if it means a championship, and Smart will be a huge part of making that leap next season if/when he returns.

If you want to see Banner 18 raised next season or in the near future, everything we know about Marcus Smart suggests that he’ll be the guy that’ll make the plays that get the team over the hump. Of course, talent often wins out, and next year’s team is dripping with talent, but every team needs that guy to make those winning plays. Marcus Smart is that guy. I anticipate that next year (hopefully a few weeks later), I’ll be conducting another exit interview with Marcus Smart because I expect him to be back and I expect him to “winning plays” us all the way to Banner 18.