Will Marcus Smart's big-money deal impact his play?
Will Smart come down with contract-itis?
Second in our series of key questions facing the Celtics this season. We'll ask one per day heading into camp, which kicks off with Media Day Sept. 24.
BOSTON – There were moments of frustration, hurt feelings and disappointment during Marcus Smart’s contract negotiations with the Celtics.
Eventually, both sides managed to get a deal done that keeps the defensive-minded Smart in Boston to the tune of $52 million over four years.
It’s a lot of money and provides Smart and his family the kind of economic security every NBA player eventually wants to have.
Such contracts make for a much more comfortable life; the kind of life that we’ve seen spill on to the floor with the result being players performing at a level significantly below what they did to earn the contract in the first place.
We call it contract-it is, an all-too-common form of getting too fat and too happy with past achievements after hitting their first major payday.
While there are players whose performance has tailed off significantly after getting paid, don’t look for Marcus Smart to add a chapter to that particular narrative.
Here are three reasons why the contract Smart agreed to will have little to no impact on his play this season:
The Celtics are full of proud players, but few exhibit this character trait more consistently than Smart. Boston has established itself as one of the more consistently elite teams defensively, and the presence of Smart has had a lot to do with that status. He will make his share of mistakes, take a few bad shots and at times, leave fans frustrated as hell wondering, ‘what the hell was he thinking?’ But you never have to worry about Smart taking his job lightly when he’s on the floor. He understands the need for him to make an impact (usually as a defender) is critical to Boston’s chances of winning every night.
When it comes to contract-itis, there are usually signs of players being prone to this happening after getting paid. Before the big deal, taking multiple plays off at both ends of the floor and a lack of attention to detail are often the most glaring signs of this being on the horizon. Smart has his flaws, for sure. But him not giving all that he has to offer when he’s on the floor, isn’t one of them. In fact, it is that effort that at times resulted in him injuring himself. He’ll be the first to tell you that balancing the desire to play with great effort with not overdoing it, remains a challenge. But if one of your player’s biggest flaws is that they tend to play too hard too often, you’ll take that problem every day.
Anything less than his best will not only hurt Boston’s chances at success, but also impact Smart’s playing time. Smart has played starter-like minutes since coming into the NBA, evident by him having played 7,488 minutes which trails just three players - Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins (11,841), Elfrid Payton of New Orleans (8,854) and Cleveland’s Jordan Clarkson (8,313) – who each have significantly more starts in the NBA than Smart. But Boston has a roster full of perimeter talent coming off the bench with Smart, led by Terry Rozier. Boston also signed 29-year-old Brad Wanamaker, whose size, build and overall game is similar to what Smart provides.
The Celtics and most teams in the NBA for that matter, know what they’re getting when it comes to Marcus Smart. He is a streaky shotmaker (at best) who makes up for that with elite-level defense and great effort at both ends of the floor. But he’s still of the mindset that he has room to grow as a player. Specifically, he wants to become a more consistent jump-shooter and continue to improve upon last season in which he showcased a much-improved playmaking game all the while continuing to be an elite defender. While he has the big money now, the 24-year-old will be at the peak of his game when he hits free agency again. And if his game makes the kind of strides offensively he’s hoping for, an even bigger payday may be on the horizon for him in the summer of 2022.