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CelticsBlog exit interview: Marcus Smart and the degree of love and trust

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The Boston Celtics are quickly approaching a crossroads with Marcus Smart. It’s time to find out where both sides stand.

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game Five Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Why do some Celtics fans love and trust Marcus Smart so much?

I can’t really speak for others, though I suspect my reasoning likely aligns with the reasoning of many other fans out there. For me, one tweet stands out.

My favorite basketball player took time out of his day to tweet me. Obviously, Marcus Smart means a lot to me for his most important career highlight to date to make it onto my wedding cake (shoutout to my wife for being so cool about that). His response was just really, really cool. Does that make me biased? Sure, but you’re also on CelticsBlog dot com, so it’s likely you’re not coming here expecting articles that are completely removed from the subjects of our entertainment.

And that’s one thing Marcus Smart is not – removed. And maybe that’s why we love him and trust him so much.

Marcus Smart is not removed from his community. Him making an appearance in the Riffs Man-organized digital telethon event to raise funds for the YounGameChanger Foundation shows how much these things mean to him. His body is also far removed from the floor more often than not because of his hustle and desire to win at all costs.

He’s not far removed from the angst of certain fans because of his shot selection, that’s for sure.

What I believe is that Smart shouldn’t be far removed from this team either.

Marcus Smart averaged a career-high 13.1 points, a career-high 5.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks in a career-high 32.9 minutes per game.

Fun fact – here are Smart’s blocks per game averages over his career: 0.3, 0.3, 0.4, 0.4, 0.4, 0.5 and 0.5. Just thought that was funny.

Here’s the part you all care about – Smart did all of that shooting 39.8% from the field, 33% from behind the 3-point line, and 79% from the free-throw line. He took 10.6 field-goal attempts per game (compared to 11.4 last year) and 5.9 3-pointers per game (compared to 6.6 last year). He took 3.4 free throws, which is up from 2.5 attempts last year.

I look at these numbers, and I see substantial progress. That’s a successful season to me. The fun thing about the Marcus Smart discourse is that others will look at those same numbers from a fourth option and be mad about it. I don’t personally vibe with it, but I understand it to a degree.

It’s been a frustrating year for a team that went .500 and dealt with a litany of issues. I’m not here to convince you that Smart was not THE problem or a big part of the problem. If you think that’s the case, you probably believe that strongly.

But I also feel strongly that Smart wasn’t the problem and is part of the solution.

Smart played out of his role often this season not by choice but by necessity. As the raw averages show, Smart did not magically shoot more this season or hijack the offense nearly as detractors will claim. He actually shot less this year. But with so many guys in and out of the lineup, Smart had to play up a role often, playing as the third best guy on a team that would benefit from being the fourth or fifth guy in the offensive pecking order.

Acquiring Evan Fournier helped with that, except for the fact that Jaylen Brown went down right after. One thing is for sure, though, and that’s that when the Celtics were more or less healthy and no audibles in role needed to be called, Smart played his role as distributor and offensive cog as well as the team needed.

We just barely got to see that.

So now what? Marcus Smart enters a contract year likely seeking a big raise. For 2021-22, he’ll be making $13,839,285 to cap off a 4-year/$52M contract. It’s unlikely that Smart and the Celtics agree to a contract extension this summer; there’s a lot going on this summer. But trade talk will likely circle Smart’s name until a hard decision is made one way or another.

It is important to note that Smart received less as a restricted free agent than expected, so fears over what his contract will look like shouldn’t be overblown, considering that Smart means and is worth more to the Celtics than he is likely to most other teams.

If ownership believes that injuries were the biggest reason why the Celtics underachieved this season, we’ll see Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Evan Fournier on this roster on Opening Night. If that’s not the case, we’re likely looking at one or two of those names not being here.

Looking back to the start of the season when the Celtics (with Smart as the full-time starting point guard) started 8-3 before Jayson Tatum caught COVID-19 and then looking at how Smart ended the season as the no-doubt-about-it second best player in Boston’s short-lived 2021 playoff run, to me, it’s clear that Smart still has a place on this team.

When Brad Stevens said that he loves and trusts Marcus Smart, we ate it all up. Whether or not Smart has played his last game for the Boston Celtics will prove whether President Brad Stevens loves and trusts to the same degree as Head Coach Brad Stevens.