Marcus Smart

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

Marcus Smart making a lot of teams look stupid for bypassing him in free agency

John Tomase
November 30, 2018 - 9:38 pm

Marcus Smart hit restricted free agency expecting to earn $16 million a year. Suitors never materialized, but the Celtics rewarded their dirt dog anyway.

The four-year, $52 million deal he signed probably slightly surpassed market value, but it’s hard to imagine the Celtics mind, because outside of Kyrie Irving, no one has meant more to Boston than the fifth-year guard out of Oklahoma State.

Friday’s 128-95 victory over the hapless Cavaliers provided no shortage of quintessential Smart moments in the third quarter alone.

First he stole a lazy perimeter lob that most defenders wouldn’t even bother contesting, starting a fast break with Irving that ended with Smart going around the back to Marcus Morris, who was fouled.

He later drained a 3-pointer before racing the other way and harassing Rodney Hood through a screen before drawing an offensive foul on the clear-out.

Later still, he hit Aron Baynes with a perfect bounce pass on the pick and roll, but Tristan Thompson denied Baynes at the rim. No matter. Smart soared between two fallen Cavs and dished to Irving for a wide-open 3 that gave the Celtics a 21-point lead.

He finished with 12 points, seven assists, and three steals, and further developed the rapport he’s building with Irving. It’s the kind of effort we’ve seen countless times from Smart, but should never take for granted.

And it raises a question – where were the league’s other contenders when he hit restricted free agency?

Every Western Conference team with designs on beating the Warriors should’ve inquired on Smart, who has played a pivotal role in the Celtics giving Golden State fits over the last three years as a hard-nosed perimeter defender.

Imagine, for instance, the Houston Rockets with Smart in the backcourt. Houston lost defensive stopper and all-around glue guy Trevor Ariza to the Suns, of all teams, and is off to a horrible start as the 14th seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets had cap issues after signing Chris Paul and Clint Capela to extensions, but perhaps they could’ve gotten creative.

Closer to home, the Eastern Conference rival 76ers had plenty of cap space, and they never made a serious push, either. The basketball fit may not have been ideal, since point forward Ben Simmons can’t shoot, either, but let’s not overthink things, since signing Smart could’ve robbed the Celtics of the player teammates and coaches refer to as their heart and soul and delivered that snarling tenacity to Philly.

Just imagine where the Celtics would be without him. They’re 2-0 since he entered the starting lineup, and perhaps it’s not coincidental that they’ve delivered the two highest-scoring games of the season in the process.

That’s a tribute to Smart, a winning player who gives the Celtics their edge. That Boston was basically the only team to express legitimate interest this summer feels like a serious oversight on the part of everyone else.