Marcus Smart is probably one of the most unique players in the NBA. Though he is only shooting 33% from the floor and 31% from 3, Marcus Smart continues to be a key cog on the best team in the NBA (by record).
What will his market be this off-season, though?
Short answer? Not good.
He will be competing with guards like Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lou Williams, Derrick Rose, Will Barton, Seth Curry, Malcom Delaney, Glen Robinson III, Pat Connaughton, Marco Bellinelli, Tyreke Evans, Zach Lavine, Elfryd Payton, Rodney Hood, and Patrick McCaw for money. There are others not on this list that will be available also.
Because of the spike in salary cap two off-seasons ago, there is less money to go around in the summer of 2018, which is Marcus Smart’s RFA year. Based on spotrac.com, only 15 teams will have positive salary cap space in the summer. Let’s go through each team and see their likelihood of signing Smart.
Lakers, 47 Million
The Lakers are rumored to be hunting for Lebron James and Paul George this off-season. That money will not be available to anyone until James and George sign somewhere else. Even if it did become available, the Lakers already have Ball and Clarkson. Caldwell-Pope is a better fit next to Ball due to his shooting and the fact that he doesn’t need the Ball.
Even if the Lakers don’t get James and George, it would make more sense for them to pursue a young big like Julius Randle, Alex Len, or Lucas Noguiera with the money first and then resign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Bulls, 38 Million
The Bulls will resign Lavine first for 15-20 million a year, which will only leave 18-23 million in space. Their cap situation could change also with Mirotic and Lopez on the trade block. If they are unable to move them, they likely bring Mirotic back for 13 million, which only leaves 8-10 million for any other free agents.
Hawks, 32 Million
Smart would be a terrible fit next to Schroeder and in Coach Bud’s system. If they want to resign Delaney, Bellinelli, Illyasova, Babbit, or Cavanaugh, they’d need some of this money anyway. It makes a lot more sense for them to throw 20 million at Avery Bradley or Reddick than Smart. They also are in bad need of a big 4 to play next to Collins.
Mavs, 31 Million
More on them in a minute.
Sixers, 31 Million
The Sixers will target Reddick and Bradley first as well. They cannot afford an iffy shooter on the outside with Simmons as one of their primary ball-handlers.
Rockets, 21 Million
They will resign Paul and target James first.
Jazz, 19 Million
The Jazz will focus on keeping Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, and Dante Exum before they will target Smart with this money. Besides Smart is not a great fit next to Mitchell, who is their centerpiece of the future.
Magic, 16 Million
They will resign Aaron Gordon, who is the only good thing about the Orlando Magic in a long time. They will also likely try to retain Elfryd Payton, though I have no idea why.
Suns, 15 Million
More on them in a second.
Nets, 15 Million
Although they would probably enjoy taking a Celtic player, the Nets need to focus on retaining their own young talent, like Okafor or Joe Harris. Smart, however, does make a bit of sense next to Russell.
Kings, 12 Million
The Kings need to give the ball to Fox and Hield to develop them. They are in greater need of a scoring/shooting wing to open the floor for Fox and WCS pick-and-rolls.
Pacers, 10 Million
The Pacers are already heavily invested in Oladipo, Collison, Bogdonavic, Joseph, and Stephenson. They are much more in need of a scorer/shooter on the wing to help Oladipo.
Pelicans/Knicks/Spurs, <7 Million
This isn’t enough money.
(By the way, I don’t think the Cavs resign Thomas, which means he will need to go to one of the above teams as well. Watch out for the Suns, Mavs, and Bulls)
The Mavs and the Suns
The Mavs and the Suns are the two most interesting fits for Smart. Smart could play off ball next to Booker in Phoenix, take the tougher defensive assignment, and occasionally orchestrate the offense.
However, the Suns would probably rather get another scorer/shooter next to Booker. Also, the Suns need more help in the front court. They really need a versatile big that can run the pick-and-roll with Booker, but they will probably have to settle for Len or Monroe.
The fit that makes most sense is Dallas, partially because Smart is a Texas kid. If Dirk retires and the Mavs decide not to resign Noel, Curry, or Mejeri, they could have a lot of money to throw at Smart and another free agent. The Mavs guards (Harris, Barea) are all getting older too, and are in need of youth that’s not too young.
However, Smart is a bad fit next to Smith, who is their player of the future. Sure, defensively Smart might help them, but neither can shoot consistently, which is a must for the Mavs spread pick-and-roll offense.
Again, probably the best fit is Dallas, but are you convinced that Dallas is gonna be that interested in a 23 year old 33% shooter to replace their 31 year old 40% shooter (Matthews)? I think they could find a player like Smart for better value.
There just isn’t enough money in NBA this off-season for Smart to get a big contract. A team over the cap could offer him a 8.8 million dollar mid-level exception, but surely that is something the Celtics would match to keep Smart’s versatility and feistiness. Most teams do not want to tie up their MLE offer with a restricted free agent, because of the likelihood that the team would match the offer.
Without any leverage, this leaves Smart with two options: 1) Play for the 6 million dollar qualifying offer in 2018, try to prove your abilities, and become an UFA in 2019. The problem with this is that Smart will be splitting time with Irving, Hayward, Brown, Tatum, Rozier, Ojeleye, and possibly a player like Larkin. That’s not a lot of minutes to prove yourself. 2) Sign whatever long-term money the Celtics offer.
Either way, I think Smart will be a Celtic still in 2018-2019. I’d rather keep him on a bargain contract (something around the MLE, like 8 million a year) for 5 years.
I’d like Smart to be a Celtic for life, and he may not have a choice for the near future.