Forsberg: Smart extension won’t hinder further roster tinkering originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Celtics locked up Marcus Smart on a four-year, $77.2 million contract extension Monday that could keep Smart in green through the 2025-26 season.
But the new pact doesn’t tremendously hinder the team’s future flexibility, allowing president of basketball operations Brad Stevens the opportunity to determine if Smart is one of the ideal pieces to keep around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
A handful of thoughts on the Smart extension and what it means for the Celtics moving forward:
Much like the last time Smart re-signed with the Celtics, there will be some that balk at the price tag, but it could be a sweetheart of a price point from the day it kicks in next summer. Smart’s extension averages out to $19.3 million per season. There are at least 60 players earning a higher annual value in the NBA right now. If Smart emerges as Boston’s surefire starting point guard and thrives alongside Tatum and Brown, then it has potential to be a very team-friendly deal. There is very low risk so long as Smart plays to a potential he didn’t quite meet throughout last season.
The uneducated lament will be that signing Smart eliminated any chance of Boston adding a big-splash free agent next summer. As we detailed earlier this month, it most certainly adds a small obstacle on the path to max cap space but not enough of one that should have deterred flexibility-craving Stevens. The threat of cap space still exists, which is all Boston wants in the first place, and the path to a big-splash addition is far more likely to involve a trade. Smart’s new deal opens up a bunch of avenues to constructing a deal. But rather than run the risk of having another player walk away in free agency, Boston has ensured itself a return on its asset no matter what happens moving forward.
Everything the Celtics do now is through the lens of Tatum and Brown as pillars. That’s obvious. But Smart is undeniably the conscience of the team. He’s the heart and soul. We find it hard to envision a Celtics team without Smart given his presence for nearly the entirety of the Stevens era. Even as Tatum and Brown take on more responsibility and grow as leaders, it’s not the worst thing to have Smart there to help guide and advise them.
Smart is the starting point guard next season. Dennis Schroder might be a solid low-cost addition with desires to be a starter, but the Celtics didn’t re-sign Smart to big money just to throw the keys to a player who will almost certainly be gone next summer. It’s time to see if Smart can thrive as the first-unit quarterback while not having another top ball-handler in front of him on the depth chart (Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker). Smart’s playmaking skills are underrated and he’s often embraced a downshift in shots whenever he’s playing alongside Tatum and Brown.
Smart’s extension doesn’t kick in until next summer so it does not impact Boston’s current tax situation. He’ll still earn $14.3 million this season in the final year of his previous extension. Boston is over the tax line but has means to trim salary before season’s end if it yearns to duck the tax.
Smart is not eligible to be traded for roughly six months after inking his extension (depending on how the NBA treats this weird time-shifted summer). The Celtics probably need the early part of next season to figure out core pieces anyhow. The extension does take him out of the trade equation should a star-type player hit the market before January, but Boston has other means to construct deals.
With Smart’s extension complete, we’re eager to see if the Celtics try to get a deal done with Robert Williams next. Like with Smart, Boston can lock up a potential key piece of their core at a modest price tag without sacrificing much flexibility. The team’s confidence in Williams’ health — and Williams’ willingness to sign at a reasonable number — will determine if that’s one of the final pieces of Stevens’ slick summer.
Looking ahead to the summer of 2022 when Smart’s extension kicks in, Boston will have roughly $91.8 million in salary commitment with a Tatum, Brown, Smart, Williams, Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, and 2022 first-round pick core. A $119 million cap projection would still leave Boston with somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million in potential cap space, even after incomplete roster charges. As much as we all tend to ponder big-splash options — like signing Bradley Beal — there’s an alternate path where the current core excels in a more normal season and the Celtics can still add an impact player over the summer at a lower price tag. If Boston does yearn to sign Beal, it will need to trade Smart before that pursuit could occur (the more likely path to adding Beal is a trade).
After a trying and admittedly underwhelming 2020-21 season, Smart is poised to enter next season with newfound security and a chance to really thrive in an elevated role. Smart’s new coach, Ime Udoka, has already raved about the player and the tone he can set. Smart and Brown, in particular, had amazing chemistry last season. Smart is well positioned for success and the Celtics are seemingly banking on a bounce-back season, yet there are other avenues for the team if he doesn’t.