Report: Marcus Smart leaning toward accepting Celtics’ qualifying offer

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Marc Smart wants more than $12 million-$14 million annually.

Instead, he’s “hurt and disgusted” by the Celtics’ handling of his restricted free agency.

What will he do about it?

A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

While no deal is imminent, two NBA officials whose teams have had some level of interest in Marcus Smart are getting a strong sense that he will sign the $6.1 million qualifying offer made by the Celtics and become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019.

The Celtics don’t seem to fear Smart taking his qualifying offer. They’ve shown a willingness to pay the luxury tax, but with their stacked roster, they could be over the tax line for several seasons in the foreseeable future. Keeping Smart at his $6,053,719 qualifying offer could allow Boston to avoid the tax this season and delay costly repeater-rate penalties down the line.

The downside: Smart would become an unrestricted free agent next summer and could leave unilaterally. That might be worth the risk – especially with Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier also at point guard (though they can also become free agents next summer).

Smart can pursue an offer sheet now, though potential suitors are dwindling. He could negotiate a multi-year deal with the Celtics, though that would require him taking enough of a discount they’d prefer it to him signing his qualifying offer.

So, Smart accepting the qualifying offer is far from his only option.

But it definitely appears increasingly likely.

Report: Markelle Fultz (76ers), Jaylen Brown (Celtics) among players ‘off limits’ in Kawhi Leonard trade

AP Photo/Winslow Townson
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Update: Perhaps, Wojnarowski meant Al Horford rather than Terry Rozier as a top-five player. Horford is better, but given age and salary, Terry Rozier might have more trade value. So, it’s ambiguous.

 

The 76ers and Celtics are rising powers, because they’re loaded with good, mostly young, players.

For the same reason, both teams are viable trade partners with the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.

Philadelphia has Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Boston has Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier.

But apparently neither team is willing to deal those players to San Antonio.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz – they’re off limits. Boston’s really got their top five players off limits. Boston’s more willing to do a deal that’s pick-heavy. But the Spurs want good players back. They don’t want to rebuild. They want picks and guys who can help them stay in the playoffs.

Perhaps, the 76ers can construct a trade around Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Philadelphia also has the Heat’s 2021 first-round pick.

The Celtics are more loaded with draft picks – a Kings or 76ers first-rounder next year, a Grizzlies first-rounder and a Clippers first-rounder. But beyond its top five, Boston’s players aren’t exactly alluring.

Not that the Celtics should include any of those top five. Leonard reportedly isn’t that interested in Boston – a big deal because he can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Perhaps, Philadelphia should dangle Fultz. Leonard might be more interested in staying there.

But his injury presents a big risk for any team that has him. Even a reliable pledge to re-sign would leave major questions.

Really, this shows how far the Spurs are from trading Leonard. They’re asking for the moon, and other teams refuse to include assets worthy of the superstar. That gap can get bridged quickly, but this is the stalemate typical of early trade talks.

Report: Celtics have assets Spurs most desire in Kawhi Leonard trade

Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Spurs finally appear ready to trade Kawhi Leonard.

But where?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Lakers – with the trickle-down effect of becoming more appealing to LeBron James and Paul George – are mostly strongly incentivized to trade for Leonard. Los Angeles should consider its increased chances of landing those other stars when offering San Antonio.

Trading for Leonard would get the Celtics Leonard and only Leonard. But Boston is so loaded with assets – Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, the Kings’ first-rounder, the Grizzlies’ first-rounder and more. The Celtics could deal a lot for Leonard and still have a lot leftover, which is why they should consider trading for the superstar even without a pledge of him re-signing next summer.

Which of those Celtics players and picks do the Spurs especially covet? Boston’s list of valuable pieces is too long even to guess.

It’s also possible the Spurs leaked that, true or not, to extract more from the Lakers.

Report: Celtics signing EuroLeague point guard Brad Wanamaker

AP Photo/Bob Leverone
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The Celtics are loaded at point guard.

Maybe even too loaded.

But that won’t necessarily remain the situation.

This offseason, Marcus Smart will be a restricted free agent, Terry Rozier extension-eligible and Shane Larkin an unrestricted free agent. Kyrie Irving will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. As much as Boston wants to keep everyone, that might not be feasible.

So, it’s time to add more cheap talent

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

Wanamaker went undrafted out of Pittsburgh in 2011. He has since plays in the D-League and overseas, developing into an NBA-caliber player.

The Celtics did well signing Daniel Theis from Europe last year. I’d bet on their foreign scouting paying off again.

The bigger question: What happens with the players currently ahead of Wanamaker on the depth chart? It’d be easy enough for Wanamaker to take Larkin’s job, but are Irving, Smart and/or Rozier also on the move?

Can Lakers form LeBron-Kawhi-George superteam?

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Two weeks ago the cry from some corners of the Internet and a lot of talk radio hosts was that superteams were ruining the NBA…

Until they got the chance to talk about a new one being formed.

Last Friday, when Kawhi Leonard’s people leaked that he wanted out of San Antonio (without telling the Spurs first face-to-face, something that still has not happened… real classy), it came with the news his preferred destination was the Lakers. Add that to the fact both LeBron James and Paul George had already been rumored to want to go to Los Angeles and… suddenly the NBA speculation machine was in high gear. People could envision another threat in the West to the Warriors.

The rumors started flying. This is why Magic Johnson was given the reins of Lakers’ basketball, to bring back the days where Lakers’ exceptionalism seemed justified, and if he can pull off getting these three he could bring back the glory days with this one swoop.

Can the Lakers pull this off?

Technically, yes. In fact, you can be sure that people from teams LeBron/Leonard/George are at least discussing how to make it work (through back channels, of course, there is never any tampering in the NBA…).

Is it likely? No. But in a world where Mexico can beat Germany in the World Cup anything is possible. Just don’t bet the rent money on the Lakers here, this is a longshot.

• How the Lakers can pull it off

The Lakers put themselves in position to land two max contract superstars this season with just minimal moves (waiving and stretching Luol Deng and the $36.8 million he is owed over the next two years is a big part of that). That flexibility can be put to use to bring the three stars together.

First, the Lakers trade for Leonard, sending the Spurs some combination of Brandon Ingram/Lonzo Ball/Kyle Kuzma plus some picks and Deng and his contract. I have heard from sources (and others have reported) the Spurs are not particularly interested in Ball as part of this deal, and as a rebuilding team they would not want Deng either. Ingram, Kuzma, Deng and picks (maybe this year’s No. 25, more likely future picks) can work for Leonard and Bryn Forbes. That’s not likely to go down before this Thursday’s Draft, however.

More likely this trade would ultimately involve a third team that would take on Deng (probably and Ball) and send some players/picks back to the Spurs that they find more interesting. There are scenarios where this works out.

Bottom line: The Lakers have the assets and cap space to pull this off — it will gut the roster and leave the Lakers trying to fill out the team around their stars with the taxpayer midlevel ($4.4 million) and minimum contracts, but we know LeBron James can attract veterans to chase a ring with him for less.

What’s more, expect the Lakers to go all in on this — this will not be a half measure. They will exhaust their efforts to see this come about.

• The Biggest Roadblock: The San Antonio Spurs

For this to work, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have to play along.

That could happen, but first the Kawhi Leonard is going to have to sit down across from Popovich and say he wants out. That hasn’t happened, it has just been through social media. (The Spurs think the people around Leonard are trying to get him to a bigger market for branding reasons, that this isn’t fully driven by Leonard himself.) Until it does, the Spurs are still not listening to trade offers.

Also, there are reports that it’s not the Spurs preference to play ball with the Lakers, which is also what I have heard around the league. All things being equal, San Antonio would rather send Leonard to the East, not a team in the West with the resources of the Lakers. Ultimately, however, the Spurs are going to take the trade offer that’s best for them, and if they perceive that to be the Lakers, then they will do it.

(Note: Some Lakers fans seem convinced Spurs have no leverage here, that if Leonard says he will only re-sign with the Lakers that’s the only place they can trade him. Not true. Most importantly, the Spurs care only about the return on the trade not what happens after. Leonard’s threat will scare off some teams that shouldn’t put that many assets into a deal — Sacramento’s rumored interest is a perfect example — but it’s not going to scare off Boston, Philadelphia, or a handful of others who are convinced they could win Leonard over within that first year. They will make the same bet OKC did on George, that they can win him over with their culture/coach/fans/winning, plus he would be able to get $49 million more guaranteed if he re-signed.)

The Spurs will get multiple trade offers. The Lakers offer likely looks something like discussed above: Ingram, Kuzma, picks, and Deng (very possibly with a third team in the mix to take on Deng and other assets the Spurs don’t want, but that team will need a sweetener, too).

Boston’s offer is rumored to be along the lines of Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris (for salary reasons), and Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2019 (only No. 1 pick protected). The Celtics and their wealth of assets could alter this trade in other ways: Sub in Jayson Tatum for Brown (that would mean less valuable picks going to the Spurs), plus they have the Grizzlies 2019 pick (top seven protected) and the Clippers 2019 first round pick (lottery protected), plus their own first rounders and a few second rounders. Boston also could re-sign Marcus Smart and move him in the trade. Danny Ainge has options.

Philadelphia will want to get in on this, too: This year’s No. 10 pick, Markelle Fultz, and Robert Covington would work, and they have their own first-round picks in future years to offer. (While fans seem to have given up, some teams believe Fultz could still be developed into what was expected of the former No. 1 pick.) However, after this draft the deal gets harder for the Sixers unless the Spurs love Fultz.

For the Spurs, it may well simply come down to this: How do they internally rate Ingram vs. Brown/Tatum (and picks) vs. Fultz? If they have a strong preference toward one of those players over the others, or the potential of the picks offered, they will lean that direction.

• What if the Spurs decide to take their time?

Right now, the Spurs are still not listening to trade offers, wanting to sit down with Leonard. While ultimately that may not change the situation, the Spurs are not an organization that gets rushed into things they don’t want to do. Reports are (and again, sources have confirmed this to me) that the Spurs are not going to hurry this decision on when and where to trade Leonard. They are willing to drag it out deep into the summer or even into next season if they don’t like the offers presented.

The longer this goes on, the harder it is on the Lakers to pull together this super team.

On July 1, the Oklahoma City Thunder will put a max five-year, $176 million extension on the table in front of Paul George. Reports are he’s leaning toward taking it — or, more likely, taking a shorter, one-plus-one or two-plus-one contract where he is a free agent again in a year or two — but the idea of going to Los Angeles to play with LeBron and Leonard will give him pause on signing that deal. He will wait to see how it shakes out… for a little while. How long is the question?

LeBron is in the same boat. Starting July 1 he will meet with multiple teams and field multiple max offers, from the Lakers and others. He may want to form a three-player super-team in Los Angeles, but would he come to L.A. without Leonard? If the Spurs sit on their hands early in free agency, how does that impact LeBron’s decision making process?

Even the Lakers are on the hook here — other teams are going to come hard at restricted free agent Julius Randle. Los Angeles would like to keep him after Randle’s leap forward on the offensive end last season. Randle can sign an offer with another team on July 6 and the 72-hour clock is on the Lakers — match it and they can’t bring together this big three.

• Other things that could mess the Lakers up

• The biggest is one mentioned before: Paul George agrees to take OKC’s $176 million on July 1 and it’s done. Or, more likely, George agrees to a shorter deal where he can hit the market (and head to the Lakers or wherever then). George may want to give it a run with the Thunder, and if that doesn’t work consider his options again. If that happens, the Lakers could scramble to try to find another max player to bring in (Chris Paul?) but if PG13 just decides he likes the Thunder and playing with Russell Westbrook, there is nothing Magic Johnson nor LeBron can do about it.

• LeBron James could decide he like’s Chris Paul’s recruitment pitch on Houston and join the Rockets. We’ll know about that one by June 29, the day LeBron has to tell the Cavaliers whether he’s opting into our out of his contract. If he opts in then the trade is worked out in principle (that or he’s staying in Cleveland, but I wouldn’t bet on that one). If LeBron opts out, he’s not going to Houston, it’s just hard to make the math work.

• LeBron decides to stay in the East and signs as a free agent with the Sixers. Philly is going to come hard at him.

Right now, you can be sure that forces are working through back channels to make this new Lakers’ super team happens. Some people want to happen.

But none of those people are in the Spurs organization. Ultimately, they hold the cards on this. And if they don’t want to deal those cards, LeBron, Paul George, and the Lakers will have to find a game elsewhere.