Marcus Smart's Free Agency: Playing the waiting game

The Boston Celtics have yet to strike a deal with Marcus Smart while players all around the league ink new deals. What exactly is taking so long?

Marcus Smart can only wait as the Boston Celtics navigate 2018’s free agency period and try to find the right deal to keep Marcus in Boston for the best price. Some recent quotes represent the situation very poorly, and could lead you to believe the Celtics are blowing off a heartbroken, confused, and very important piece to the roster. No, Smart is not being kept in the dark even if he doesn’t know the team’s exact intentions. Free agency isn’t always a display of transparency for NBA franchises, but it’s not rocket science either. The Celtics don’t want to overpay Smart and they don’t have any incentive to.

Using our free agency tool to see what the league is willing to pay for guards this summer is a solid indicator of what Smart should expect his next paycheck to look like. Basically, if you're not Chris Paul, you're not buying a yacht any time soon. Here's a quick snapshot of what some guards have signed for thus far: 

Player Years/$$$ Notes
Tyreke Evans 1/12M ~20 pts, 5 rebs, 5 ast last season
Dante Exum 3/33M Constantly injured
Avery Bradley 2/25M Bad fit in DET, injured w/ LAC
Isaiah Thomas 1/2.4M Hip injury
Tony Parker 2/10M 36 years old
JJ Redick 1/12M Literally never misses
Lance Stephenson 1/4.5M Is Lance Stephenson
Fred VanVleet 2/18M Best comparison for Smart - integral bench player on a good team
Rajon Rondo 1/9M Is Rajon Rondo
Elfrid Payton 1/2.7M Finally cut his hair

It's hard to get a fat paycheck when so few teams have the cap space for it, and even more so as a point guard in today's league, in part due to the excess of guards fighting for minutes. This may be best exemplified by the Celtics, who were hardly deterred by losing Kyrie Irving to injury, and managed to stay afloat even without Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin at different times. Larkin is likely out of the equation now, but the team still has to figure out what to do with Jabari Bird as he continues to draw interest around the league amidst a strong summer league showing.  I've only looked at one organization and already named five NBA-level point guards. What motivation would any team, Boston in included, have to outbid themselves to sign a guard when there's an unlimited supply? If you hold out for a $15 million-per-year contract, then you're essentially taking a front row seat to watch every other guard sign with a team for a more reasonable amount while you sit and wait. Of course, I totally understand Smart's determination to secure a large amount of money. I'd probably do the same, as should any other athlete. 

There's a lesson to be learned, though, about betting on yourself and demanding too much money. Smart's agent, Happy Walters, went through a similar process when he represented Nerlens Noel. Noel rejected a four-year deal worth $70 million in 2017 before firing his agent and settling for the qualifying offer. Of course, the big difference is that Noel actually received the offer that Smart wishes he could be offered, but the point is that he still turned it down in search of a max contract. Now, Noel is signed to a two-year $4.8 million deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It's important to point out the other unique circumstances he went through, from getting nudged out of the rotation in Philly to not meshing with Rick Carlisle in Dallas, while Smart hasn't experienced any such issues. For what it's worth, Noel was also drafted sixth overall, was viewed as a player with tremendous upside, played for a team that was blatantly tanking and could use all the future talent they could get, and still did not have the leverage to get more cash out of his employers. The common sentiment in today's league is to get every cent you can and not a penny less, and yet we shake our heads in disappointment when the Noel-type situations happen and a huge contract is turned down for grossly misunderstanding one's value to a team. I'm not one to give financial advice, but history tells me that holding out for more money will often result in less money. 

The Celtics are in an almost entirely unique situation where they have zero bad contracts on their roster. This is especially important with Terry Rozier and Kyrie Irving's contracts ending after next season, Jaylen Brown's restricted free agency approaching in 2020, and Jayson Tatum's next contract coming up the year after that. I say this despite the fact that Marcus Smart is my favorite pro athlete: the Celtics simply cannot screw up their books by overpaying him. I think it makes sense for both parties to aim for a deal in the three-year, $30 million range, especially given the context that every team outside of Sacramento has used up their cap space already, and a lot of potential suitors already have guards that they're working to develop because, as we've learned, the league is loaded with point guards. If you're personally feeling impatient about the whole thing, then you're only going to get more frustrated as Smart could remain unsigned through September. 

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