The Boston Celtics’ offseason was more or less a snoozer this year, especially after last year’s Gordon Hayward sweepstakes and flipping Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving, but they still managed to infuse a fair bit of drama into it. As July dragged on, the Celtics had yet to resign Marcus Smart, their hype man extraordinaire with an F-16 engine level of hustle crossed with the grit of a South Boston hardcore kid.
Smart publicly let it known he was miffed about his contract situation. He is a guy you want to avoid irritating (just ask the old heckler Smart pushed while at Oklahoma State) and more importantly, an asset you don’t want to lose to an opponent. Smart seems like the type of dude that would circle, star and decorate with Hello Kitty stickers the first date on his schedule against a former team. I can imagine him bringing a crowbar into the TD Garden and smashing any breakable items within arm’s reach.
Luckily, we don’t have to worry about that now. Turns out General Manager Danny Ainge was just slow playing it and after weeks of sending Boston fans into minor cardiac shock, the Celtics signed Smart to a four-year, $52 million-dollar contract, right around the price he was asking before free agency began.
And while that seems a little high for a low-scoring, low stat producing player, anyone who knows anything about the Celtics or Smart will tell you he is worth every dime.
The word “intangible” is thrown around a lot when describing players who don’t show up on the stat sheet and a lot of the times it’s code for a guy that does a couple random things well but overall kinda sucks. That couldn’t be further from the truth when assessing Smart.
He is the life blood of the Celtics, an instant dose of rah-rah unhinged enthusiasm that not only rubs off on his team but sends C’s fans into a frenzy, the human equivalent of a meth infused pot of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
Without him, the Celtics are not THESE Celtics and many of the close games they have pulled out during his tenure go into the loss column instead. Smart is a phantom in terms of effect on the game. When looking at his career stats (9.4 PPG, 3.9 AST, 36% FG), Smart comes across as a semi- productive bench player on paper.
But watching highlights of his play gives you his value as a whole. Loose balls? Smart chases every one of them with Labrador like glee. If the opposition gets there first, he goes all MMA style and scraps on the hardwood no matter the opponent’s size. He is a premiere defender who physically disrupts not a single player but an entire team’s offensive scheme.
Look at the 2018 first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. The first games of the series were sans Smart and the Bucks were able to run the floor and force the tempo on offense, which led to a lot of transition baskets and open perimeter shooting. Upon Smart’s return, the entire tempo of the series shifted with the Bucks unable to maneuver around the ruts and divots Smart caused in their game plan. As a result, the Bucks went out in 7 and the C’s moved on. If Smart did not return in that series, Boston’s glorious postseason run would have ended there.
That Smart’s return added enough value to swing the series in Boston’s favor in a non-scoring role is remarkable. Steals on the inbound, pull up threes that find the net when Boston needed them most, pushing the emotional limit of the crowd, never ever fucking quitting--these are some of the things Smart does better than almost any other player in the NBA. These are the X-factors that make him a highly valued asset in today’s scoring obsessed NBA.
Is he an All Star? No. Is he a starter? Not in Boston. Is he one of the most important players on the Celtics roster? Yup, you bet.
Smart’s role with the Celtics is invaluable and the contributions that he has made in close games over the years are where his best contributions lie. The hustle plays and never-ending terror he forces opponents to endure have been significant when it comes to Boston’s overachieving over the last four seasons. The big winner aside from Smart getting what he feels he is worth is of course the organization as a whole.
With Smart on the floor, the Celtics have their emotional and defensive anchor, a role not every team can fill especially to the depth in which Smart does. They are a much better team with him.
Most importantly, Boston and Smart were made for each other.
“I love Boston and Boston loves me,” Smart said after re-signing.
I don’t believe there was any other outcome in this situation. Celtics fans can breathe easier knowing Smart will be on the roster for years to come.