By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Marcus Smart hasn’t been afraid to defend Kyrie Irving.
Smart called talk of Irving’s leadership dividing the team “bulls–t” one day after the Celtics’ season came to an end in Milwaukee. And even with Smart set to defend Irving in another way next season, with Kyrie now a Net, Smart continued to insist that it was more than just Irving that let the C’s down last season during an appearance on ESPN’s The Jump on Monday.
“Let me make this be clear: We, not just me, the world — even Kyrie — knows he didn’t play up to the standard that he wanted to [last season],” Smart told Rachel Nichols when asked about Irving and the 2018-19 Celtics. “But there’s four other guys out there with him. There’s a coach out there. We’re all supposed to be one team, so you can’t put the blame on just one guy. Because there’s things that everybody could have done better to not just help Kyrie, but help each other.”
At the same time, however, Smart was not blind to the truth of last year’s team.
“I mean let’s call a spade a spade, right? It’s true. We were dysfunctional,” said Smart.
Last year’s dysfunction was not a result of the team disliking one another (Smart actually noted how the team got along and hung out together off the court), but rather the group as a whole not knowing how to adjust to different roles. That struggle was noticeable. You had Gordon Hayward and Irving, two bonafide NBA stars, trying to get their scoring game back on track after season-ending injuries the previous year. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, meanwhile, were forced to take a backseat after leading the Celtics to the third round when those aforementioned injuries allowed them to step up and into bigger roles. Oh, and Marcus Morris (unrestricted free agent) and Terry Rozier (restricted free agent) were in contract years, trying to find their fit within a guard-heavy and wing-heavy roster while also making sure they got theirs down the road.
It turned out to be a disaster. With more than just Irving to blame, according to Smart.
“When you’re trying to build that camaraderie, when you start singling guys out, it makes it really hard,” said Smart. “And we’ve seen it inside the locker room and things like that, with guys calling guys out and it just wasn’t working for us. So for me, I just wanted to let people know that yes, we understand that Kyrie wasn’t up to Kyrie’s standard, but there’s four other guys,.
“There’s a whole roster full of coaches, everybody participated.”
With Irving and Al Horford gone and Kemba Walker brought in as the team’s new ball-dominant point guard — and with No. 36 growing into his own as a leader (and as the longest-tenured Celtic) — Smart will try and take last year’s dysfunction to help rebuild the Celtics back into legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference.