Which took the bigger future dent last week: the Celtics’ salary cap space for the 2022 offseason, or the backboards at the TD Garden?
Not a tough question if you ask me.
A few years ago — back when the world seemed so much brighter and I was a wide-eyed youngster writing for The Eagle-Tribune — the Celtics signed Marcus Smart to a 4-year, $52 million contract. At the time, I wrote a column calling the decision, and I quote, “A Smart move.”
So witty, I know.
Basically, I liked the idea of the team deciding to stick with the grittier Smart over fellow young guard Terry Rozier, who was more of a scorer. Again, at the time the Celtics had Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were budding young stars.
Better to let them get more shot attempts instead of having to satisfy the offensive touches that Rozier commanded, right?
And plus — get ready, because I’m about to say it — Smart brought the ... intangibles.
Now here we are, three years later, and in case you missed it, the Celtics signed the now-27-year-old Smart to another 4-year extension, this one worth $77.1 million. The deal is the most lucrative that Smart could have signed with the team, and will keep Mr. Intangibles in Boston through the 2025-26 season.
All offseason, the hot stove talk around town is that the Celtics were trying to get as much cap flexibility as possible to go after a max contract player — presumably Washington’s Bradley Beal — next summer.
Al Horford — who has two years left on his deal but is only guaranteed $14.5 million next year — returned in the Kemba Walker trade, and the Celtics also brought in Dennis Schröder, Josh Richardson, Enes Kanter, Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando all on one-year deals.
Those are all players that can easily be moved on from next summer to create the cap space necessary to bring in a max player.
Now, that becomes infinitely harder — maybe impossible — after the Smart extension.
A max player would only be able to come to Boston next offseason via a sign-and-trade, with Smart being one of the pieces moved out.
But, honestly, does that seem likely after the team just showed him a massive amount of loyalty with this new max deal? What would have been easier, to trade Smart before the extension as a rental on an expiring contract, or is he easier to move now that he has term?
What I do know is that I’m tired of hearing this sentiment:
“I think keeping Marcus Smart in the fold was a huge move for them because he really is kind of the culture and identity of their franchise,” said NBA analyst Greg Anthony.
What has that “culture” produced, per chance?
Is it the culture that got the Celtics swept in the East semis by the Bucks a few years ago? Or the one that had Smart throwing chairs at teammates in the locker room after a loss to the Heat in the conference finals last year in the Orlando bubble?
Or is it the one that underachieved this entire past season to the No. 7 seed — and the dinky play-in round — before meekly bowing out to the Nets in the first round?
It doesn’t help that Smart — who former colleague Hector Longo affectionately calls “Marcus the Mason” — thinks he’s Larry Bird from beyond the arc. If “knowing your role” is a sports virtue, then Smart, who’s never shot better than 36.4% from 3-point range in a season and only eclipsed 35% just that once, hasn’t learned it yet.
Which is fine, I guess. Believe what you want to believe, Marcus.
I mean, Steph Curry has never beaten me in a 3-point contest, so is he really a better shooter than me?
Who knows, maybe Smart’s extension could mean a potential Brown trade is immanent, and that’s how the Celtics really shake up the roster.
But it’s now been seven years of the Marcus Smart Experience in Boston, and it just hasn’t worked. How many more “winning plays” has he made over his, at times, bone-headed shot selection and emotional outbursts?
You also had the chance to just let it play out and have Smart play this upcoming season in a contract year and make a decision next offseason.
So again I ask, why now? And why with this player?
And if you think I’m crying, wait until you hear the poor rims at the TD Garden in a couple months.