If your offseason dream was for the Celtics to get rid of Marcus Smart, don’t get too excited: new head coach Ime Udoka sounds like an even bigger fan of his than Brad Stevens.
Udoka spoke highly of Smart during an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand on Tuesday. He obviously wasn’t going to criticize his own player before he’s had even one practice with him. But Udoka seems to consider Smart an indispensable piece of the Celtics’ puzzle, and especially as a complement to young All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Smart’s fearlessness and competitiveness impressed Udoka when the Celtics guard played for the USA Select Team, which was assembled for the purposes of scrimmaging against the U.S. National Team. Udoka hopes that Smart will continue to bring those same intangible qualities to the Celtics under his leadership.
“What Marcus brings is invaluable, it’s the heart and soul of the team at times,” Udoka said. “I mentioned him with the select team going against the U.S. national team years ago. He was the only guy who wasn’t scared out there. We’ve got a bunch of future NBA All-Stars and All-NBA guys, and they were a little timid at times, but Marcus was a very vocal leader. He has that edge and toughness about him. So, the things he brings to your team are the things you love every player to bring. You hate playing against him, but you want him on your side.
“He’s another foundational piece. He’s been here through thick and thin, seen the winning and seen some down times. What he does for Jayson and Jaylen is invaluable, in my eyes.”
Udoka said a lot of things that we already know about Smart. He’s tough, tenacious, and competitive, the kind of piece that any championship team needs somewhere on the roster. But what Udoka didn’t say about Smart was that he’s one of the aforementioned All-NBA guys, or that he’s one of the league’s great shooters, or that he’s an offensive force.
That’s because Smart is none of those things. And it’s about time his head coach told him that. We’ll see if Udoka is willing to sit Smart down and tell him, “Just facilitate and play defense and bring the energy, and we’ll feed you the ball when you get hot. Otherwise, stop acting like you’re Mr. Big Shots, because you’re not.”
By far the No. 1 task on the table for Udoka is to bring the best out of the Celtics’ most important players, and that includes getting them to understand what they are. Smart is an excellent competitor and former All-Defensive Team selection. He will never be the scorer that Tatum or Brown are, nor should he be a top-3 scoring option on the team.
It’s on Udoka to make him know his role.
Listen below for the full interview with Ime Udoka on Zolak & Bertrand:
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.