Marcus Smart is one of the most polarizing players in the league, even among fans of his own team.
The same player who has shot us out of games (and, worse, let his temper put him out of commission) is clearly sorely missed on the defensive end, and likely a major if not sole reason why the Boston Celtics have been having such a rough stretch since Smart lost the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on the 24th of January. 
We can't live with him, nor, seemingly, can we live without him.
This makes recent whispers by The Sporting News' Sean Devaney regarding the potential interest of the Indiana Pacers in targeting Marcus in restricted free agency this summer especially concerning

"Front-office executives around the league expect that the Pacers will be a player on the restricted free-agent market this summer, where some talented players could be the victims of a league-wide financial squeeze. That would allow Indiana to bring in talent at a reduced cost. Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart are bigger names expected to draw interest from the Pacers, and there could be bargains with the likes of Yogi Ferrell, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick McCaw."

Should the Celtics be worried? Perhaps. If this is merely speculation on the part of Devaney, probably not. If he has inside intelligence, however, Boston may not be able to outbid the Pacers, who look to have among the most potential flexibility this summer with as much as $57 million in potential cap space to play with. Chances are it will be considerably less than that given the team would have to let go much of its current roster, but the risk is there that the Celtics might have to let Smart walk for nothing.

The situation boils down to who the Pacers choose to make an offer for first, and how disposed Smart is to take a discount to stay with his current team. Only a handful of teams - at most ten - will have more than the taxpayer Mid-Level Exception this summer ($8.8 million next season), and there are a number of free agents likely to be ahead of Smart in the free agency pecking order. 
Among them are top-tier players who seem unlikely to change teams, at least to the Pacers - LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and certainly Paul George - as well as other options like DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Zach Levine, Clint Capela, Jabari Parker, Jusuf Nurkic, Shabazz Napier, Rodney Hood, Elfrid Payton, Brook Lopez, Tyreke Evans, the aforementioned Gordon, current teammate Greg Monroe, and former teammates Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas.

For those of you counting, that's 20 players most would rank above or around the level of Smart, and only 10-ish teams with money to spend on them. If we eliminate the players least likely to move (at least to the Pacers), we still have Cousins, Jordan, Levine, Parker, Nurkic, Napier, Hood, Payton, Lopez, Gordon, Evans, Monroe, Bradley and Thomas on deck - 14 in total. More may join the ranks if high-level buyout candidates ink short-term deals before the first of March.
I still maintain there's very little chance of a team wasting their time locking up cap with an offer sheet to Smart with all these guys still on the board given all these wrinkles, but the possibility of a team falling in love with Marcus remains a threat - and now, we have our very first hints one might be flirting with the notion.

Keep your eyes peeled, folks.

For more stories by Justin, click here.

Image: Brian Spurlock/USA Today
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 2/16/2018 02:54:00 PM Edit
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