Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard, right, falls on Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving as he vies for the ball with Celtics guard Marcus Smart, left (formerly of Oklahoma State), during the first quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game in Boston, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
After an offseason in which Boston Celtics General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge continued to rebuild towards another title-contending team, Marcus Smart is the longest-tenured player on Boston’s roster.
Ainge arrived at a three-way-intersection and had to pick between Smart, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder in order to move forward with the Celtics’ rebuild this past off-season. All three players had been on the trading block at some point during their tenures with the Celtics, especially last year. Bradley and Crowder were traded away and Smart is expected to fill the sixth-man role for the Celtics.
With 11 new players on the roster, head coach Brad Stevens will need Smart as the catalyst to implement his basketball and coaching philosophy. Smart is not the best, most-important or highest-paid player on the roster but he will have a big impact this upcoming season. The impact will be positive or negative based on if he sinks or swims in his new role as the first player off the bench.
With young cornerstone-players Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on the team, Smart will be instrumental in their development as young professional athletes on a soon-to-be championship contending team. Smart can be the bridge between the young players and Stevens and lead by example as a coaching resource.
“I’ve got to lead by example,” Smart said of his role with his young teammates. “Everybody keeps talking about I’m the longest tenured Celtic. I’ve been here. I know what Brad wants on the defense and offensive end. I know we have a lot of guys, new guys, young guys, still coming in trying to learn, and they’re gonna be looking for someone who’s been there. And with me being in, that’d be me.”
Perhaps this will prevent Smart from teaching Brown and Tatum bad habits like bad flopping and from doing it himself.
What made Kevin Garnett a fan-favorite in Boston was his passion, emotion, and energy. Every team needs a player that they can feed off of. The energy they provide can be contagious and infectious if conveyed positively. Players like Garnett and Draymond Green are examples (Demarcus Cousins is not one). Smart can be that player for the Celtics by standing up for himself and his teammates.
Although his passion and fire can also get him in trouble:
Stevens’ starting lineups have been fluid depending on the matchup over his tenure as head coach. It’s not about starting, it’s about finishing. Understanding their role and being the best version of themselves is what players on a championship team are made of.
“I’m totally fine with that. I had a talk with Brad (Stevens) and we actually discussed that,” said the Celtics guard. “He was debating about whether starting me or coming off the bench for various reasons. I told him whatever you decide I’m with it. That’s the uniqueness about this team. No one really cares if they start or come off the bench. Everybody has to be ready, everybody’s gonna play a role, a big role, when they come in the game.”
Smart knows he will be on the floor during crunch time, especially when versatility is key to success down the stretch. If the young players aren’t ready for the big moments, Stevens can always turn to Smart to plug the holes to prevent Brown and Tatum from being exposed and bridge the gap until they are ready. Despite his less-than-ideal shooting, Smart has the ability to defend multiple positions and his toughness, tenacity, and grit will be needed despite his inability to space the floor. There are worse shooters in the league but what separates Smart is that he will not hesitate to let it fly in big games or moments.