The long awaited return of Marcus Smart is on the horizon.
Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge joined the "Toucher and Rich" radio show on 98.5 The Sports Hub on Thursday to discuss the impending return of the sophomore point guard, who resumed basketball activities earlier this week.
Ainge revealed that Smart's progress has been encouraging, with a return before the end of the month or shortly after looking like a realistic target.
"Marcus had a really good day [Wednesday]," Ainge told Toucher and Rich. "He got on the court for the first time and he's running around and felt good. Barring any setbacks, I think it's probably looking closer to the end of this month or the beginning of the new year. He looks good, and we're excited to get him back soon. But I'm not sure exactly when that is. That's sort of a day-to-day thing, but I'm looking at it more at the end of this month."
Smart has been sidelined since banging knees with Brooklyn's Thomas Robinson on November 20. He has appeared in only 9 games this season after missing the last 14 games with the injury, over which time the Celtics have compiled a 7-7 record.
The Celtics were tied for first in the league with a 95.0 defensive rating at the time Smart was injured, but have since fallen to fourth after producing a mediocre 100.1 defensive rating in his absence. Getting Smart back in the lineup will help Boston return to being among the elite on the defensive end.
With Smart on the shelf, Isaiah Thomas has flourished in the starting lineup, putting up All-Star caliber numbers in an increased role. It remains to be seen if Smart's return will bump Thomas back to the bench or if coach Brad Stevens will stick with Thomas for as long as that lineup continues to thrive.
Regardless of what role Smart plays upon his return, adding him back into the rotation gives the Celtics more depth and allows them to manage the minutes of Thomas and Avery Bradley more carefully. Bradley is averaging a career-high in minutes, while Thomas' average of 32.6 minutes as a starter would be a significant jump from the 26.0 minutes he averaged off the bench for the Celtics after the mid-season trade that brought him to Boston last season.
With Smart set to return sometime around New Year's, perhaps his resolution heading into 2016 will be to remain healthy. After missing 15 games in his rookie season, followed by the 14 and counting that he has missed this year, the injury prone label is starting to follow him around.
"I think he throws his body out there and he plays basketball like a linebacker, but time will tell [whether Smart is injury prone]," said Ainge. "Because he hasn't had any serious injuries or needed surgery, so that's helpful... I hope he's not injury prone."
Calling Smart injury prone is a bit unfair since these aren't chronic injuries that are likely to plague him throughout his career. Unlucky may be more accurate, even if his hard-nosed style of play may make him more susceptible to contact that could lead to injury. There's no doubt that the missed time has stunted the development of the former No. 6 overall pick, but the Celtics need to be cautious about forcing him to change his style because his aggressiveness is what makes him such a great defender.
Smart has lifted his scoring to nearly double-digits at 9.8 points per game, but his shooting has regressed to a dreadful 33.3 percent from the field. If he manages to stay on the court long enough to find his rhythm then we should see some steady improvement as the season progresses. Even when his shot isn't falling, Smart has the ability to impact a game in a variety of other ways, so getting him back can only help this team.
From the sounds of it, we shouldn't be waiting much longer to see him back in action.