Marcus Smart admittedly didn’t see it coming — the depth of change that is in the process of hitting his team.
The Celtics guard is now decompressing in his own way, as he puts it, by running his annual basketball camp at Brandeis University. That means mixing with the kids and, befitting the NBA hustle award he won Monday night during the league awards show, at one point putting some of the campers through a charge-taking drill this week.
But the outside world isn’t so much knocking as it is blowing the door down, and with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford likely departed, Smart has figured out what this unexpected rebuild means for him.
“I see my role as bigger than ever now. Just because once again, being that longest-tenured Celtic, going into my sixth season and really understanding Brad and this organization, and the system that he likes to run, and just, that’s who I am. And I’ve got to be that times 10 now, because we are going through some things. We did have a bad year. We’ve just got to keep everybody on the same track.”
The Celtics haven’t had a captain since Rajon Rondo succeeded Paul Pierce, but Smart certainly seems to be making that case for himself now. He bristled yesterday at the suggestion — fueled by Irving’s impending flight — that for NBA players, Boston has returned to being an undesirable location.
“I think it kind of speaks for itself. We’ve got the Patriots, we’ve got the Bruins, we’ve got the Red Sox, we’ve got the Celtics,” he said. “You name me another city that’s got four teams in different categories like that that’s all known for winning championships. It gets no better than that. I don’t know who is saying that, or why they’re saying it, who knows. But for me, being here and experiencing it for myself, Boston is definitely a place you want to be, especially if you’re trying to compete for a championship.”
Except that the Celtics appear due for a cultural reset after all of last season’s chemistry issues. As Smart admits, communication got worse over the course of the season.
“Even in the regular season, it wasn’t a disconnect. It was just a lot of people kind of got in and — it was like a telephone game. You tell one person this and by the time it gets back to you, the whole narrative had changed,” he said. “That’s kind of how it goes. Like I said, you can only control what you can control. You focus on what you can focus on. As a player, you focus on getting into the gym, getting yourself better and you let the front office handle the front office stuff and you do what it is you need to do for the team.
“Hey, the thing is, the Raptors just won the championship, right? But they’ve got to start back over from the beginning just like we do,” he said. “So we all start back over at the starting line, we all start at zero, and we all get a chance to do it. So everybody’s starting over, regardless if they have the same team or not, they’ve all got to start from the beginning. That’s how we take it. We take it as we come in, and we have an opportunity to do something special, and we get another chance to do it.”
The Celtics, of course, are at a ground zero starting position compared to the NBA champs. Though he admittedly was caught off guard by the Irving and Horford reports, Smart knew that some form of change was coming.
“I expected things to change. Significantly or insignificantly wasn’t really a big thing. I wasn’t expecting as big or as little, I just knew something was going to change,” he said. “I think everyone kind of knew that. Now, what that is, we have no clue. Like I said, you can’t really focus on that. You have to let the guys whose jobs it is to focus on that. You focus on what you can.
“I’m excited. We’re excited,” he said. “As competitors, you have a season like we did last year and it leaves a funny taste in your mouth. We use that as our motivation and to keep going. We’re very excited. Whatever team or whatever people or whoever is on the board or whoever is on this roster with us, we’re excited to have them to go out there and fight.”
Though Smart said he has been in touch with Irving, their conversations have veered clear of basketball. He said he bears no ill will against either of his soon-to-be-former teammates.
“I mean, in today’s game, nothing really catches us by surprise until it catches us by surprise. To a little bit, it did, but, those guys are grown and they have every right to do what they feel is best for not only them and their families and their careers,” said Smart. “Regardless of if those guys stay or leave, I have nothing but love for them. Always will. I wish nothing but the best luck for them, whatever they do.”
CELTICS NOTES — Smart was ultimately the most decorated Celtic this season, not only winning the hustle award, but making his first NBA all-defense first team. The hustle award made him laugh.
“I didn’t even know that award existed. It was good. I throw my body around a lot. I know I don’t score too many points,” he said. “I know I don’t shoot the lights out or dribble like some guys in the league. I just do what I was taught to play. I know those things and those attempts are going to show up on the stat sheet. For that award to be out and be an award is incredible.”
He added of making the all-defensive first team: “It felt good from the standpoint of finally knowing that I’m not the only one seeing it. But that doesn’t determine the type of defender I am. Whether I got it or not, I’m still gonna be the defender I am. But I appreciate the award. It was kind of cool seeing my name up there with those guys and to be in that prestigious award and that level. So it’s a good feeling but t it’s not done and I’m still gonna be me regardless, with or without.” … Smart will take his camp to Puerto Rico from July 15 through the 18th, with half of the proceeds going to the hurricane relief effort. As always, he’ll be out on the floor.
“That’s the big thing about me and why my camps are different,” he said. “I’ve been to camps before and been around guys these ages and experienced that a guy puts his name on a camp and never shows up. As a kid that sticks with you. You never know who one of these kids might turn out to be in the future, and I know for me, when I saw someone’s name on the camp that didn’t show up it was kind of devastating. I try to change that whole platform as an athlete. I want to actually be here so they can see me day in, day out.”
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