Believe it or not, but Marcus Smart is the elder statesman for this Boston Celtics team.
The longest tenured Celtic, Smart, who is now in his sixth NBA season, has fully taken over team leadership duties for a squad that certainly lacked that presence a season ago.
But the most notable change for this team compared to last season is that Smart won’t have to lead the charge by himself. While the C’s have only gone through training camp and played just two preseason games, including Friday night’s 100-75 road win over the Orlando Magic, there’s a sense that the C’s, from the younger budding stars like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to the veteran mainstays like Smart, have learned from last year’s turbulent season to come together as a complete unit.
“Everybody’s grown up this past summer. Every last one of us. We can definitely see it within each other,” Smart said. “On the court, we try to make sure that we continue to keep it that way. Keep the mature mentality, go out there and play the right way like we’re supposed to and just be as professional as we (can) and be a professional team.”
Smart knows that professional mindset is for the betterment of the team, especially one that features a large contingent of rookies. Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters are fresh faces in the NBA and their development can be fostered by the environment which surrounds them on and off the court.
“We got a lot of young guys that are depending on us older guys who have been here, who have been in the league for a while,” Smart said. “We know we have a lot of responsibility and we just want to make sure we can own up to that and take care of it.”
It isn’t just about the veterans helping to bring along the rookies, though. The C’s struggled last season with a bevy of wings on the court together. Brown would turn into a black hole, Tatum would force up mid-range jumpers, all the while there being a growing frustration over Gordon Hayward’s playing time, especially early in the season, as he worked himself back from injury.
But having Brown, Tatum and Hayward on the court together is the C’s most talented lineup, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens has seen signs so far that all three can share the spotlight together.
“When Tatum, (Gordon) Hayward and Brown can play off each other, it’s really good for us,” Stevens said. “Those guys are trying to play together.”
And that will be the key all season, trying to play as a cohesive unit unlike last year.