By Danny Picard
BOSTON — On the same day that Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors, it was reported that the Boston Celtics were in serious talks with restricted free agent Marcus Smart about a four-year deal that would pay him somewhere between $10 million and $13 million per year.
By the time you read this, that deal might already be finalized. And that will be great news.
It’s no coincidence that these talks got serious right after Leonard got traded. Previous reports had the Celtics trying to acquire Leonard from the Spurs, though, the specifics of any offers the C’s might have made are still questionable.
The Raptors gave up DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick, while also acquiring Danny Green along with Leonard. Considering Leonard did not want to play in San Antonio and he can opt out to become a free agent next summer, it’s a great trade for the Spurs, who will have DeRozan under contract for the next two seasons, and possibly a third, if they can get him to opt-in in for the 2020-21 season at $28 million.
Meanwhile, the Raptors are taking a shot on Leonard, in the hopes that he might enjoy the city of Toronto, while also enjoying an opportunity to be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference every year, especially now that LeBron James is in LA. It’ll be a challenge to keep Leonard away from free agency next summer, and I wouldn’t put my money on him signing with the Raptors long-term, but I do admire the risk that Toronto is taking here, knowing they’ve lost in the second round of the playoffs the last two years, and also knowing that they can offer Leonard a five-year, $190 million contract next offseason.
Could the Celtics have matched what Toronto gave up? Probably. But Leonard’s ability to become a free agent after this season most likely prevented them from giving up too much.
Who knows, maybe Danny Ainge will be a major player in trying to sign Leonard next summer. But for right now, with Leonard off the table, it’s clear that Smart is the Celtics’ new top priority. And he should be.