We know Brad Stevens loves Marcus Smart. We now know Ime Udoka loves him, too.
And so the Boston Celtics guard, who has found himself in trade speculation with the city split between wanting him and despising him, may have received an indication to where he will play next season.
It certainly seems it will be in Boston.
“What Marcus brings is invaluable. It’s the heart and soul of the team at times,” Udoka, the recently-hired Celtics coach, said Tuesday during an interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Zolak and Bertrand.”
“He has that edge and toughness about him, so the things he brings to your team are the things you’d love every player to bring,” Udoka continued. “You hate playing against him, but you want him on your side. So he’s another foundational piece. He’s been here through thick and thin, seen the winning and seen some downtimes, so what he does for Jayson (Tatum) and Jaylen (Brown) is invaluable in my eyes.”
Udoka, as you may have heard, worked with Smart, Tatum and Brown as an assistant coach with USA Basketball during 2019.
The irony of it all is that, if the Celtics want to better their roster via trade, they will have to send something of significance. Based on the fact that Udoka referred to Tatum and Brown as “pillars” of the organization during his introductory press conference, it seems those two NBA All-Stars would be off the table. Stevens talked relentlessly about bettering the team around those two just last week, too.
Smart, 27, probably is the only other Boston player who could get the Celtics something in return. We can’t imagine people are lining up to take on Al Horford’s contract and Grant Williams, Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford don’t move the needle enough for a big return. The only other potential trade asset would be Robert Williams, but who knows how the Celtics would go about that. One thing we do know now is that Udoka’s comments, while they could be just a public relations move, seem to be indicative of a player that is not on the table.
Of course, Udoka is not the one who makes that decision. Stevens, the Celtics president of basketball operations who spent the previous eight seasons as head coach, does. Stevens, though, has expressed his appreciation of Smart just as much as anyone.
“I just believe in his resolve,” Stevens said in April. “I believe in who he is as a competitor. I know because I’ve been around him. I know that sometimes we get caught up in some of his home run swings he takes and, you know, I think those get over-analyzed, and everybody misses the fact that he’s got the courage to do it. He’s tough. He helps you win.”
Those comments from Stevens came after Smart scored 14 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter in a win over the New York Knicks. They most certainly are not isolated.
Stevens added after Smart was named First Team All-Defense in Sept. 2020: “? I think that his instincts make our whole team better. They help when we make a mistake as a team. He’s in the right place. He sees the game. He can direct people where to go. He knows how to play.”
That collection of comments, highlighted by those Tuesday, certainly make it seem Boston won’t be sending Smart out of town. And that’s a decision that will be either loved or hated depending on who you ask.