Marcus Smart frustrated by wait, but Celtics have no plans to part with him
After several frenetic summers, this one has been mostly quiet for the Celtics. They have thus far added just first-round pick Robert Williams and free agent guard Brad Wanamaker, and the focus has shifted almost entirely toward the status of guard Marcus Smart, a restricted free agent.
A source close to Smart said Friday that the 24-year-old guard is hurt by the Celtics’ lack of communication during free agency, and that he is “over it” and prepared to ultimately sign a one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next season if it comes to it.
But league sources said the Celtics’ perceived lack of interest in contacting Smart was not indicative of any change in their view of the talented young guard. The Celtics and Smart’s camp remained apart on contract discussions, so the Celtics were essentially waiting for Smart to have talks with other teams and potentially sign an offer sheet that they would then almost certainly match. If this is a standoff, league sources said, the Celtics certainly do not view it that way.
The sources said that Smart remains an integral part of the Celtics’ future, and that the feeling has never shifted, despite the lack of an agreement to this point.
One league source said there is significant interest in Smart around the NBA at a price tag closer to $9 million annually, in line with the mid-level exception, but Smart has no plans at this point to entertain such offers.
Multiple sources said that it appears increasingly likely that unless Smart significantly lowers his asking price — which no one expects the guard to do — he will ultimately accept the one-year, $6 million qualifying offer he received from the Celtics and then become an unrestricted free agent after next year.
If Smart accepts the qualifying offer, he will have a no-trade clause in his contract this season.
A source close to Smart said that if that is the route the point guard chooses, there is a chance he could wait until October to sign it, in case another team makes moves to clear space to sign him to a bigger deal.
The source close to Smart said that as it stands, there is a “95 percent chance” that Smart will not sign a multi-year deal with the Celtics this summer, because he feels the franchise has turned its back on him in recent weeks.
Of course, such thoughts can change suddenly, and they might not even matter, as Boston will be able to match any offer sheet Smart signs with another team.
The main issue for Smart now is there simply are not many teams with the cap space to offer him a salary in the $15 million-$17 million range that he is believed to be seeking.
The source close to Smart said that the point guard is particularly frustrated by the Celtics’ lack of communication during free agency. In a recent Boston Herald story, an anonymous source took that a step further, saying that Smart was “disgusted” by the absence of contact by president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
Multiple league sources said that Smart’s representatives made it clear at the start of this process that negotiations and discussions should go through them, not Smart — a common approach.
But the source close to Smart said the general lack of contact to maintain a relationship with the most tenured current Celtic has been most puzzling. The source said that Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga sent Smart a text message asking about the health of his mother, Camellia, who is battling cancer, and that several players have reached out, but the source was not aware of any other communication.
League sources said the Celtics are unsure whether Smart is truly wounded by their actions — or lack of them — in recent weeks. But if he is, the belief is that Ainge is prepared to make an effort to mend the relationship and make Smart understand how important he remains to the franchise.
The Celtics have been quite open about their hopes for Smart to be a big part of this team moving forward.
“Everybody in here wants Marcus Smart back at the end of the day,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said in a June interview with the Globe. “Danny would echo the same sentiments. He’s a winning basketball player and he has a contagious effect with how he plays. The one part of the front office work I don’t have a sense of or get into is the numbers, but everybody wants him back.”
The Celtics and Smart were close to coming to an agreement on a contract extension last fall, but talks ultimately fizzled.
Multiple sources said that Boston’s offer has decreased since then, but that the team remains poised to sign any large offer sheet Smart signs with another team.
Smart’s agent, Happy Walters, also represents Wanamaker, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Celtics on June 25, so the two sides have been in contact about those negotiations in recent weeks. Wanamaker ultimately left millions on the table in Europe to chase his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.
Smart averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game for the Celtics last season and shot 36.7 percent from the field and 30.1 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
He missed 11 games in the middle of the season after suffering a large gash on his right hand when he punched a picture frame in his Los Angeles hotel room.
Then on March 11 he tore a ligament in his right thumb diving for a loose ball in a game against the Pacers and was sidelined for the rest of the regular season as well as the first four games of the Celtics’ opening-round playoff series against the Bucks.