In one of the most chaotic days in the NBA this year, the Celtics said goodbye to one of the players that personified this franchise the most, Marcus Smart.
581 games, and just like that it is over.
No more green hair. No more hustle plays by No. 36 in green and white. In a city that recognizes those plays that don’t show up on the box score, the three-time NBA Hustle Award winner was king.
One of the most passionate Celtics of this generation, Marcus Smart was dealt by his former head coach late Wednesday in a trade that became public early Thursday morning. In nine seasons for Boston, the Oklahoma State product started in 360 games, winning a Defensive Player of the Year award while helping his team make the Eastern Conference Finals five times. Boston has pieced together a top-six NBA defense in five out of the last six regular seasons. Smart was at the epicenter of it all. He led the team in steals and total deflections every year since 2016/2017, causing the best guards across the association fits on the perimeter.
With the identity of the ball club out the door, Joe Mazzulla’s men must discover a new one. Anyone can bring up his careless turnovers, or his rushed 3-point shots, but nobody on the team made up for it more than Smart.
He became the first player to be awarded the season-long “Tommy Award” in 2021. He embodied what playing for this franchise is about, making it only fitting that Tommy Heinsohn’s honorary award was distributed to Smart first. He finishes his tenure in Massachusetts fourth on the franchises’ all-time 3-pointers and steals lists. With 27 more threes in green and white, the Texas native would have passed Antoine Walker for third. Only five players in Boston’s history have averaged more steals per game than Smart.
Since June 26, 2014, Marcus Smart bought into Celtics culture, and with time became it
His evolution into more of a playmaker brought the Celtics to the NBA Finals. Last season, he averaged over six assists per game for the first time in his career. Many doubted his ability to be Boston’s No. 1 point guard following the failures of Kemba Walker, and Kyrie Irving. He proved a lot of people wrong, establishing himself as one of the club’s best passers, finishing with nine or more assists in 12 games in the 82-game 2022/2023 campaign. Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami in 2022 stands out the most. With the Celtics down by one game in the series, Smart collected a playoff career-high 12 assists. He set the tone in that game, assisting on Boston’s first two baskets of the night.
Brad Stevens’ haul of a potential third star and two first-round picks is quite impressive. The NBA is a business, and no move exemplifies that more than this one. Within the span of a few hours, after the Celtics posted his highlight reel on social media, No. 36 was headed to Tennessee.
From leading the way to a historic comeback against the Houston Rockets in 2017 to his 27-point outburst in his first postseason career start, Smart’s moments in green will stand the test of time. Seeing Memphis across his chest instead of Boston will be a tough one to get used to. On and off the court, Smart was a change-maker for the city. What the Celtics gained offensively, and in star power, they lost in leadership and on the defensive end. He owned up to his mistakes and was never afraid to express how he felt to the general public.
In an ideal world, Marcus Smart would’ve retired with the Celtics
In an ideal world, a player like Smart would be running up and down the parquet floor his entire career. That is just not how it works sometimes. The former Boston guard leaves behind a hole that nobody has the capacity to fill. In the locker room, and between the lines, the Celtics are going to be enduring a massive change. The three-time All-Defensive First Team guard was Celtic pride. Nine seasons, nine playoff appearances. The campaign before Smart was drafted was the last time Boston missed the postseason.
A few months ago, the Boston Red Sox let their team leader go to California. Their basketball counterparts have now followed suit. Similarly to the team that calls Fenway Park home, the Celtics brought in a player native to a country outside the United States to add an offensive boost. No matter how you slice it, Smart was as significant to this team as its two stars.
If Boston finds a way to win Banner 18 within the next few years, No. 36 should get a ring too for setting the standard each and every day for nine years. Donning the green and white weighs heavy on some people.
Smart wore it better than arguably anyone in recent history.