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All my fellow Marcus Smart fans, take a deep breath - it seems Danny Ainge isn't ready to hand him over to the next guy with a rookie-scale deal extending beyond next season.

This, I might add, is a good thing. You see, while I understand the fiscal, the physical and fist-icle reasons why a trade might make sense, any such deal would have to pass a relatively rigorous test of not making the Boston Celtics notably worse this season to prevent missing a title run or two down the road.

Because that might make them miss a title run right in front of them.

Yes, it's a long shot. Contrary to the inevitability narratives we've been hearing for a bit now, winning a banner is always a long shot. Even if you have the talent, injuries, chemistry, finances and a host of other issues can turn on a dime and crush the best-laid plans to dust. The key, it seems, is to be as ready as you can be to strike if such an opportunity presents itself, even if it's a slim one.
Trading Marcus Smart simply for cap relief doesn't fit that profile. As the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett relates an unnamed opposing GM to have said:

"Boston could definitely use some scoring, but the kind of things that guy does for you defensively become even more important in the playoffs. And we still don’t know if Hayward is going to be back for them this year, so that could be your scoring help right there. They keep saying he’s not coming back this year, and that’s the right way to play it. But they don’t know. [...] And if you trade away a guy like Marcus now, you could spend the next few years looking for someone like him."

Mind you, I emphasize this source was an opposing GM, meaning it's someone who's built a career flushing green Kool-Aid down the crapper. So while Marcus nurses his injury, let's hope he's been studying tape - and not the kind wrapped around his hand, either. Perhaps it's too much to ask someone who shows up almost every night with the kind of energy he brings to also think about where he jacks up shots, but even minor adjustments like eliminating contested threes and midrange jumpers could transform his value on both ends of the floor.

In the meantime, get used to Smart sticking around for a while, save some kind of blockbuster deal materializing out of thin air. Love him or hate him, defending top-notch offensive teams Boston is sure to butt heads with in the post-season is going to require a guy like Marcus for the Celtics to stand a chance against them. And while you might note Boston won five of their last seven games, the two they lost are teams Smart was built to defend.  
There's also the issue of cap space - or rather, it's league-wide lack - to consider. Without it, the only realistic paths to developing your team is through the draft, the G-League, minimum deal cycling, and most importantly, sign-and-trades, which often need draft picks to grease the wheels to move deals made in headier days.

The more astute of you have noticed "draft" popped up not once but twice, which should give you a clue about the most important commodity in the league right now, rookie deals and their potential form, the draft pick - an unrealized but crucially important Pokemon-like resource. The very short version is teams need to get these highly-paid but middling guys to bad, rebuilding or small market teams, because there's only going to be - at very most - a third of the league in a position to have or open cap space to sign free agents.
Did I mention Smart is going to be a restricted free agent? I should note he's only going to make what other teams can afford to pay him, and while there are certainly teams which might burn their free agency calendar waiting to see if Boston will match the full Mid-Level Exception on him ($8.8 million next season based on current estimates), they'll be wasting their time, as that figure is very close to what Boston reportedly offered Smart last summer to extend, and barring a major change in thinking, almost certainly on the table if need be.
Re-signing guys who can play meaningful minutes at almost any price may be worth it for lots of teams struggling to deal with the luxuriously stupid offers they doled out after the TV money spike of 2016 despite the about-face in fiscal logics we're currently witnessing. In fact, that's what caused it - if you wonder why this article and debate are currently a thing at all, I couldn't summarize it better than the great poet Steven Sills when he wrote:

"Well there's a rose in a fisted glove; and the eagle flies with the dove; and if you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with."

For more stories by Justin, click here.



Image: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn

Justin Quinn 2/07/2018 11:00:00 AM Edit
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