Otis Smith: Boston Celtics Are Fake Tough

The Celtics are used to having their toughness challenged. Quentin Richardson called them actresses. Udonis Haslem preferred the term studio gangster. Everywhere the Celtics go, it seems, people challenge their manhood and claim the C's aren't as big and bad as they pretend.

The latest accusation comes from a man who doesn't even play in the NBA, though he used to. Otis Smith, Orlando's GM, made the following remarks about the Celtics' perceived toughness: (Orlando Sentinel)

"Sentinel: Is the team tougher now?

Smith: Tough is relative. Tough to who? Is anybody tough?

Sentinel: One could argue the Celtics are tough.

Smith: They act tough. They're not really tough. They act tough."

What Otis Smith -- and Richardson, and Haslem, and anybody else who has questioned the Celtics' toughness -- fails to grasp, is that this is basketball. This isn't a boxing match, where toughness is determined by which person knocks the other out. This isn't a UFC fight, where toughness is determined by who can withstand the most punches and kicks and elbows, and still keep brawling. This isn't a football game, where toughness is often determined by who hits and hits the hardest. This isn't a rooster showdown, where whoever crows louder wins. This is basketball, where it's not only illegal to fight but also unnecessary.

To call the Celtics fake tough guys is to believe they should do more than play with a chip on their shoulders. As if they should play with a gun holstered to their hip each night, or should use a vicious left hook to level the first person who challenges them, or should tackle foes in the middle of the paint just for fun. As if toughness in basketball is measured by something other than execution. As if toughness in basketball is measured by something far more sinister.

If Otis Smith thinks toughness should be measured by "number of opponents knocked out," well, then I guess he has a point. If that's the only measurement, the Celtics aren't very tough, because they don't often throw haymakers at their opponents. (Although Nate Robinson once bodyslammed the bejesus out of J.R. Smith, though I digress.) But fights are not what toughness in basketball is all about, and it bothers me when people think they are.

A long while back, Jay Bilas described what toughness entails, offering the best definition of basketball toughness I've ever come across. As you can imagine, Bilas never once mentioned, "A tough basketball player needs a strong roundhouse kick."

I have heard the word "toughness" thrown around a lot lately. Reporters on television, radio and in print have opined about a team or player's "toughness" or quoted a coach talking about his team having to be "tougher" to win.

Then, in almost coordinated fashion, I would watch games and see player upon playerthumping his chest after a routine play, angrily taunting an opponent after a blocked shot, getting into a shouting match with an opposing player, or squaring up nose-to-nose as if afight might ensue. I see players jawing at each other, trying to "intimidate" other players.What a waste of time. That is nothing more than fake toughness, and it has no real value. ...

When I faced a tough opponent, I wasn't worried that I would get hit -- I was concerned that I would get sealed on ball reversal by a tough post man, or that I would get boxed out on every play, or that my assignment would sprint the floor on every possession and get something easy on me.

The toughest guys I had to guard were the ones who made it tough on me.Toughness has nothing to do with size, physical strength or athleticism. Some players may be born tough, but I believe that toughness is a skill, and it is a skill that can be developed and improved. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo always says, "Players play, but tough players win."

So no, KG's screams designed to intimidate opponents and/or fire himself up aren't toughness. Toughness is when KG sees Jameer Nelson turn to throw an underhanded pass to Jason Richardson, anticipates the ball's path, and ultimately busts his rump to steal it. 

Toughness isn't Paul Pierce jawing with his defender, or throwing up gang signs, or whatever else Pierce's competitive spirit has led him to do. Toughness is when Pierce takes his time to work a defender into Pierce's sweet spot, even though the defender knows exactly what's coming.

Toughness isn't when Ray Allen brings a gun into the locker room and threatens to shoot a teammate -- wait, wrong guy. Toughness is when Allen sprints around screens all day long, but still finds it within himself to use those screens perfectly one last time, opening himself for a late-game corner three-pointer in the process.

Toughness isn't when Kendrick Perkins scowls, or when he berates referees. Toughness is when Perkins plays Dwight Howard with a single team, contests the shot with his proper hand, and then turns to box out and grab the rebound.

Toughness isn't when Rajon Rondo squares off with Kirk Hinrich. It's when Rondo chases down that loose ball you didn't think he possibly could.

Should the Celtics stop throwing errant elbows and talking so much trash? Perhaps, and though most of you here are Celtics fans, I would even say probably (and that probably leans heavily toward "yes"). The Celtics, in the eyes of opposing teams, players, fans and apparently even GMs, stretch the boundaries of on-court antics. They play physical, chippy basketball, and they do it with a scowl on their faces, and they're more likely to cuss in your face a million straight times than they are to speak one respectful word.

So I understand why people call these Celtics fake tough guys. The talk just misses the point, entirely.

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