By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
For six seasons, Marcus Smart has been the walking embodiment of the Tommy Point.
Whether taking the charge, diving for the loose ball, picking the pocket of the opposition or making the extra pass, the Flower Mound, Texas native regularly drew praise from the late franchise icon for going above and beyond.
Thanks to Smart, the term “winning plays” entered the lexicon of New England hoop fans. He’s contributed to six consecutive playoff appearances and three trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The passing of Heinsohn – an organizational stalwart for seven decades – leaves a void for a fan base who views their green heroes as members of an extended family. These days, there aren’t too many players who stay in one place for six years. As we speak, two of the longest-tenured players in the league – James Harden and Jrue Holiday – are reportedly on the move.
The trend extends to the Celtics: over the past two decades, just Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo have logged more than 12,000 minutes in green. Smart is set to join that group this season.
He may not be the face of the franchise, but he’s a modern franchise icon. Many say he should be captain. The Oklahoma State product was drafted by the team and forged his NBA reputation here. His teammates took on that reputation early – a plucky group that exceeded expectations but ultimately fell victim to their flaws. Four summers ago, that group was shuffled into one with championship goals that haven’t yet been fulfilled.
Meanwhile, Smart has grown into an All-NBA defender and league-average three-point shooter who can steal a game in the playoffs. With that ability and a $13 million annual contract that’s at once affordable and useful for matching salary with a potential trade partner, he’s also perhaps the Celtics’ best bargaining chip.
Among Boston’s 17 NBA championships, just two required a rebuild that sunk the franchise to the bottom of the league. Each time, the Green emerged from the muck with future stars in tow. Notably, Cedric Maxwell, a rookie during the 1977-78 season that coincided with Heinsohn’s ouster as coach, took home the 1981 Finals MVP. Decades later, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins thrived in supporting roles opposite a new Big Three en route to a spot on a duck boat.
In signing Smart to a four-year extension two summers ago, it seems like Danny Ainge’s plan was to have Smart go from basement to penthouse, as well.
But the Bucks just reloaded their backcourt, Harden is apparently looking to assemble Voltron in Brooklyn, and the pressure is on Ainge to do something. Whether it’s shuffling the deck by moving Gordon Hayward or moving on from Smart – who drew criticism for one too many playoff heat checks – the fan base doesn’t appear to have the patience to watch their team grow into a contender. Or really deal with any adversity at all.
Ainge moved on from Antoine Walker in 2003. From Al Jefferson in 2007. From Rajon Rondo in 2014. Meanwhile, Boston fans are like Roger Daltrey screaming, “Let’s see action! Let’s see people!” They want their team in those late night Adrian Wojnarowski tweets. As the city’s prominence on the national sports radar begins to fade, they want to matter.
As 2008 showed, it doesn’t take six years to become “family” if you bring a title here. All it takes is one.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.