Just one day after the Boston Celtics suffered a heartbreaking, Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, denying the franchise its first NBA Finals appearance since 2010, and the 22nd in team history, the faces the first major issue of the offseason; retaining restricted free agent guard Marcus Smart.
Making what could be his final trip to his locker in the Boston Celtics locker room at TD Garden on Monday, Smart told veteran Boston basketball reporter Jackie MacMullen that he believes his abilities entitle him to a salary in excess of $14 million. Having just finished his fourth year with the Celtics after they made him their first-round draft pick — sixth overall — out of Oklahoma State in 2014, Smart collected a reported paycheck of just over $4.5 million for the 2017-2018 season.
The Celtics’ payroll was the 15th-highest in the NBA over this past season, but granting Smart a raise of $10 million could push the team into luxury tax territory, which started at $123 million for 2018.
“To be honest, I’m worth more than $12-14 million,” Smart told MacMullen, who writes for ESPN. “Just for the things I do on the court that don’t show up on the stat sheet. You don’t find guys like that. I always leave everything on the court, every game. Tell me how many other players can say that.”
Under NBA rules, the Celtics and General Manager Danny Ainge must make Smart a qualifying offer of roughly $6.1 million. If Smart chooses not to accept the offer, he can shop himself around on the open market, but the Celtics may match any offer he receives from another team. Or Smart can simply accept the $6.1 million offer from the Celtics, play the 2018-2019 season in Boston, and then head into free agency with no restrictions.
According to an analysis by the USA Today NBA site Hoops Hype, three teams other than the Celtics may already have their sights on Smart. If the 24-year-old declines the Celtics’ qualifying offer, assuming that Ainge makes one, the San Antonio Spurs, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers may all be interested in signing him, Hoops Hype scribe Frank Urbina wrote.
But with the possible exception of San Antonio, signing with any of those teams would mean that Smart will be part of a long-term rebuilding project. Some basketball experts are predicting the Celtics, with the return from injury of guard Kyrie Irving and forward Gordon Hayward — Ainge’s two big acquisitions of the 2017 offseason — could raise an NBA championship banner as soon as next year.
But despite Smart’s seemingly inflated view of his salary requirements, he left the door open to remaining in Boston as they attempt to challenge for an 18th NBA title.
“I want to be in Boston. I want to be here. My heart is here. I love this city. I love this team. I love these fans,” Smart said on Monday. “The Celtics are already planning for me to be here. I have some thinking to do, but I want to be here. We haven’t talked money, but we’ve established me being here is a big deal.”