After submitting an extremely Marcus Smart sort of statistical line in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals — seven assists against zero turnovers; four rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end; 1-of-10 shooting, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range; and still somehow a plus-two rating in a 97-89 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers — the Boston Celtics guard told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that he was worth more than $14 million annually in restricted free agency this summer.
“To be honest, I’m worth more than 12-14 million,” Smart told ESPN. “Just for the things I do on the court that don’t show up on the stat sheet. You don’t find guys like that. I always leave everything on the court, every game. Tell me how many other players can say that.”
The Game 7 defeat showed the best and worst of Smart. He made a graze of LeBron James’ elbow seem like a Mike Tyson punch-out, drawing his second charge against the game’s greatest player in an All-Defensive-caliber effort. He stole an offensive rebound and put it back to snap Cleveland’s 9-0 run in the third quarter, sparking a 5-0 response when the game was unraveling. And he ripped two more offensive boards on the same possession when the Celtics trailed 78-74 with two minutes to play.
Naturally, both extra possessions resulted in failed Celtics 3’s, and Smart was no help in that regard. Three of his four missed 3’s were either open or wide open, and the third-quarter put-back was his lone make on four shots inside the restricted area. Yet, to a man, the Celtics will tell you — and did throughout the playoffs — if there is a fight for a ball, there is no player you want on your side more.
“That’s what people say,” Smart told MacMullan. “I’m not sure if you can put a price on that.”
Smart sought closer to $20 million last summer
Smart sought significantly more than $14 million when he was extension eligible last summer. Talks stalled then when the 24-year-old asked for closer to $20 million, and the Celtics chose to let him enter the final year of his contract. It’s hard to argue Boston learned much more than it already knew.
Among players who attempted at least four 3’s per game in the regular season, only Russell Westbrook shot a lower percentage (29.8) than Smart (30.1). Few were less efficient inside the restricted area, too.
It is for these reasons that Smart is probably best suited for the sixth man role he played on the Celtics — a ball of energy capable of changing games with winning plays — and not as a starter directing the offense in a league increasingly dependent on guards who can shoot from distance. That said, the Celtics were 4.7 points per 100 possessions better with Smart on the floor than they were without him during the regular season, and that number stayed fairly steady at 4.1 in in the playoffs.
Will anybody pay Smart that kind of money?
Few teams have the cap space to spend on high-priced free agents, and it’s hard to imagine any team doling out more than $14 million on someone to come off the bench. The Celtics can match any offer he gets in restricted free agency, and it will be on Smart’s agent to get a team like the Brooklyn Nets to bite. Whether anybody will be convinced they can get more out of Smart than Celtics coach Brad Stevens did this year — 10.2 points, 4.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game — well, then, good luck.
How much did injuries impact Smart’s value?
Maybe, just maybe, a GM buys into the idea that the torn right ligament he suffered in his right thumb, which cost the final 15 games of the regular season and first four of the playoffs, was reason for his dreadful 22.1 percent shooting from distance in the playoffs. Teams have risked more for less.
“I don’t like to make excuses,” he told ESPN, “but my thumb is killing me. My whole right hand hurts.”
Smart is represented by Happy Walters, the same agent who reportedly turned down a four-year, $70 million offer for Dallas Mavericks center Nerlens Noel at the start of restricted free agency last summer. He signed the $4 million qualifying offer instead, only to see his value plummet this season. Smart could do the same with a $6.1 million qualifying offer this summer, but Noel is a warning sign.
The Celtics will probably match anything less than $14 million annually, if only to retain a player who undoubtedly contributes to their winning culture and would be an asset contractually in future trades. If the price tag climbs higher, as Smart would clearly like, Boston will have a decision to make.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• ‘Born for it’: Klay saves the Warriors in Game 6
• Danica’s final race ends early after crash
• No national anthem? Softball crowd sings it anyway
• Chris Mannix: Celtics’ Horford tries to chase his Cleveland demons