WALTHAM – Marcus Smart will be a restricted free agent this summer, which means there’s a chance the 6-foot-4 defensive stalwart could be playing with another team next season.
That doesn’t appear to be likely, at least that was the impression Smart came away with following his exit interview with Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, and head coach Brad Stevens.
“They’re already planning for me to be here (next season),” Smart said.
Because Smart will be a restricted free agent, the Celtics will have the right to match any offer he receives from another team.
“I want to be in Boston,” Smart said. “I want to be here, I love the city, I love this team. I love the atmosphere it gives off. I been here for four years; my heart’s here.”
With Smart, Boston has one of the more versatile defensive players in the NBA who has shown the ability to be a game-changer even on nights – a lot of nights, actually – when he’s not making shots.
Look at Boston’s 87-79 Game 7 loss to Cleveland which ended Boston’s season.
Smart missed nine of his 10 shots from the field, and yet the Celtics were still a +2 when he was on the floor.
Ainge has been a big fan of Smart’s even before they drafted him with the sixth overall pick in 2014.
Smart worked out twice for the Celtics leading up to that draft, the first of which was by all accounts a bad one.
His second workout was much better and confirmed what Ainge and the rest of the Celtics’ brass thought of Smart.
And while he has certainly had his share of ups and downs both on the floor and off, it’s clear that he’s a player they intend to re-sign this summer.
“Danny emphasizes all the time how much he loves me as a player,” Smart said. “And I want to be here, so that’s the plan right now.”
And while the price tag for keeping Smart may be a bit higher than the Celtics want, there’s no denying the retention of Smart will go far in Boston’s efforts to take the next step in their growth as a franchise which would be a trip back to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics ownership has shown a willingness to pay what’s necessary to keep a championship-caliber team intact in past years, and have steadily built a roster that’s trending in that direction.
Two summers ago, Boston signed Al Horford to a max-salaried contract. And this past summer, they signed Gordon Hayward and traded for Kyrie Irving, both of whom are max-salaried players.
While Smart certainly isn’t in that category salary-wise, he will be a player that will draw interest from a handful of teams that are aware that they will likely have to overpay in order to pry Smart out of Boston.
“We know that in Boston, our ownership group has been fantastic,” Ainge said. “They’ve been willing to pay for teams that have a chance. The way that our team played this year, the hope that there is, that will make it easier for them to step forward and realize the potential of this team and be willing to pay the money that we need to be as good as we can.”
But don’t think that means they’ll write a blank check to keep Smart in the fold, either.
“There’s certainly plateaus and ridiculous spending,” Ainge said, “And there’s responsible spending and that’s what we’re trying to do, is be responsible.”