Smart on free agency: 'I want to be in Boston'
WALTHAM, Mass. — Celtics guard Marcus Smart said Monday that his heart is in Boston and that he believes the team is planning for his return next season, even as he prepares for the uncertainty of restricted free agency this summer.
Only hours after Boston’s Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, Smart went through exit interviews and said team brass talked as if he would be back next season.
“I’m here. They’re already planning for me to be here,” Smart said. “Those guys, I tip my hat to those guys. You don’t see a lot of organizations that’s as clear about their players as the way this organization does it.”
Smart admitted he must still ponder his options this summer.
“I got a lot to think about. There’s a lot of factors that go into it. But that being said, I want to be in Boston. I want to be here,” Smart said. “I love this city, I love this team, I love the atmosphere it gives off. I’ve been here for four years. My heart’s here. But there’s definitely going to be some factors going into it.”
Smart told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan after Sunday night’s loss that he believes he’s worth more than $12 million to $14 million per season, based on how he impacts games in ways that go beyond the box score.
The Celtics are positioned to match any reasonable offer for Smart this summer. Given the lack of teams with the resources and desire to add a player with Smart’s skill set, it seems unlikely he’d get the sort of offer that would make it prohibitive for the Celtics to bring him back.
Smart could see modest offers from contenders in the neighborhood of the midlevel exception, but it’s difficult to see a less-competitive team splurging on a player who impacts winning but remains a career 36 percent shooter.
Depending on his offers, Smart could also simply sign the $6.1 million qualifying offer that Boston will eventually tender and then test more lucrative unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019. Or the Celtics could give Smart a healthy raise if he were to sign a modest-length extension.
Smart was asked if he’d be OK with signing a deal that might be below his perceived asking price.
“It’s been a long 24 hours for me,” he said. “Right now, I’m not really thinking about that, to be honest with you. I’m just thinking about getting back to my mom and making sure she’s OK, handling everything I need to do. There’s going to be some factors and I need to talk to her, my family, and things like that.”
Smart’s 63-year-old mother, Camellia, was diagnosed with cancer; Smart left the team briefly during the playoffs, while rehabbing from thumb surgery, to visit her. He returned to help Boston get to the East finals and wrote “Mama’s Boy” on his shoes to honor his mother, who had implored him to focus on basketball.
“She’s doing good. She’s doing better,” Smart said. “But [the cancer is] still there, so we gotta deal with some things.”
Smart endured a roller-coaster season which included missing an extended chunk of time after punching a glass picture frame in a Los Angeles hotel during a road trip. He injured the thumb on the same hand while diving for a loose ball in March and missed the start of the playoffs.
Asked about the “big picture” with Smart, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge kept it light.
“Other than the big picture in his bathroom in L.A.?” Ainge asked to laughter. “Marcus had a terrific year. He brings a lot of toughness to our team and his whole time here in Boston he’s been terrific.”
Smart said it was Ainge who has given him confidence he’ll be back in Boston next season.
“Danny emphasizes all the time how much he loves me as a player and emphasized how much they want me here,” Smart said. “I want to be here, so that’s the plan right now.”