In the past few weeks the injury bug has swept the Boston Celtics like nothing any of their players or coaches have seen before.
Of course the first injury came on opening night with Gordon Hayward. Still, in the last two weeks the team has watched Jaylen Brown take a frightening fall, lost Daniel Theis for the season due to a knee injury, had to deal with Kyrie Irving’s knee stiffness not subsiding, watched Al Horford fall ill, and Marcus Smart tore a ligament in his thumb that requires surgery.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart will undergo surgery on his thumb today, but there's hope he can return sometime in the playoffs, league source tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 16, 2018
As the injuries have piled up the aspirations of a title run, or perhaps even a consecutive appearance in the conference finals has faded. The attention for the Celtics has now shifted to the future and worrying about the next season.
If you look at the list of injured players they’re all under contract for next season except for one of them, Marcus Smart. As the season was progressing Smart took a lot of heat for his lack of improved shooting and then his decision to punch a picture frame and miss a month of action.
Oddly enough, that month he was out of the lineup showed just how much Smart meant to this Celtics team as it’s currently constructed. A 6-9 stretch without him and a lack of defensive fire and intensity was enough for most fans to understand his value.
Now, there is a distinct possibility that Smart has played his final game in Green after tearing a ligament in his thumb doing exactly what he does best: diving for a loose ball.
Here's how @smart_MS3 injured his thumb.
Yeah, on a dive for a loose ball.
With 9:25 left in the third quarter.
He, of course, did not left and have finished the game, hitting 3 of his 6 threes after tearing a tendon. pic.twitter.com/eatKZrlYen
— Tomek Kordylewski (@Timi_093) March 12, 2018
The timeline on Smart is 6 to 8 weeks which would put him at a late April return if he came back as fast as possible. Given all of the injuries right now it is hard to forecast how deep of a run Boston could make and if bringing Smart back would be worth it.
As he gets set to enter restricted free agency the Celtics may have lucked out. When the TV deal was introduced in the new CBA teams went on spending sprees in free agency, now the majority of the league is either strapped for cash or a lot more wary of their spending.
The Celtics always knew that they could not match an incredibly high offer for Smart, but now they may not have to even worry about it. Looking at the league salary numbers there are only 12 teams who will potentially have the room to offer Smart.
Some of those teams can be crossed off the list right away such as the Sixers, Rockets, and Lakers who will all be saving their cap room in pursuit of LeBron come this summer. Beyond them it is the rebuilding teams who can afford Smart.
If there is one thing that has become clear about Smart in his nearly four seasons in Boston, it’s that he is a winner, that likely means he wouldn’t look to sign on with a rebuilding group.
The two biggest threats could be Indiana and Utah. Both of them are teams on the rise and would love to bring in a player like Smart. Still, anything they offer can likely be matched by Boston.
Right now a safe, reasonable deal for Smart could be in the range of 4 years, 40 to 44 million dollars. It would be right in line with what the Raptors gave Norman Powell this past offseason.
Losing Smart would due a lot of damage to Boston as a defensive unit, and he is one of the leaders as he is the longest tenured Celtic on the team. If that number seems high for Smart, go check those 15 games without him out once again, he’s worth it.
With how unpredictable NBA offseasons have become nothing can be certain until Smart is signing on the dotted line in July, but for now he will rehab and see if he has another game in green left in him this season.