Marcus Smart is sitting on a ledge in a quiet corner of the Auerbach Center as some teammates shoot baskets nearby, and he starts shaking his head before a reporter even finishes the question.
Last year, the Celtics point guard flicked away doubters and accomplished almost everything that could have been asked. He became the first guard to be named Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996. And after playing alongside All-Star point guards such as Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, and Kemba Walker, Smart was the one to finally lead the Celtics to the Finals.
So do the accolades and respect give him a new level of confidence this year? Maybe some extra swagger?
He keeps shaking his head.
“It starts over now,” Smart said. “That’s it. It’s a new year, which means all that [expletive] goes out the window and I’ve got to start over. I’ve got to prove myself again, like I’ve been doing for nine years straight. It’s nothing new.”
Smart pointed out that next spring, a new Defensive Player of the Year will be chosen. He’d like to win the award again, but he understands the first one was not charity. He understands the sweat equity that was required.
“This year it’ll be another person winning it, and it might not be me,” Smart said. “So each year you can’t focus on what you did in the past. That’s the past. Last season is over with. If you’re stuck in the past, results will represent that. I’m not trying to focus on what I did. I’m trying to focus on what I’m going to do.”
Said Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens: “All it takes is one person to say one thing, and he’s back hungry. He’s not a guy that’s going to rest on what’s happened last, because he’s just a competitor. Even when he plays a game on the team plane, you can hear him. He’s just a competitive, competitive guy.”
On a roster that has undergone several makeovers over the past decade, Smart has been the one constant. The sixth overall pick of the 2014 draft is entering his ninth season with the Celtics. Even though he has never made an All-Star team, his blue-collar approach has endeared him to Boston fans for years, and he said cementing his spot in franchise history would be meaningful. He wants to finish his career here, and he wants to be remembered for it.
“That’d be special, especially playing for a franchise that’s known for greatness,” Smart said. “So it’s something I’ve been thinking about and it’ll continue to be something I think about. It’s a great thing to think about.
“You see those banners when you walk into the Garden. You feel the history and the past. You feel the blood, sweat, and tears that the people in front of you left, and you want to be part of that. When you’re done with this game you want your kids and everybody else to look in those rafters and say, ‘Damn, I remember that guy.’ ”
But Smart also knows that in this city, championships are required to truly enter the pantheon, and he does not have any yet. He still thinks about how close Boston came last season, when it surged to a 2-1 lead over the Warriors in the NBA Finals before being shoved into the offseason with three consecutive losses. He sees that the Celtics, despite injuries and the suspension of coach Ime Udoka, remain the favorites to win the title this season. He insists that they are ready.
“Our goal is the same,” Smart said. “We came so close last year and know it’s tougher than it was last year to make it back. We understand there’s a chance we won’t make it back. But we also understand we have a really good chance if we do things the right way and do it together. So we have to go out there and be one team, be together. Whatever happens, we do it together.”
Forward Blake Griffin, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Celtics on Friday, was not at the team’s practice facility Saturday because the deal had not been officially completed. He is expected to join the team soon.
Smart said he is eager to play with the six-time All-Star.
“He’s not above the rim anymore, but he still does great things,” Smart said. “He’s a great professional. Last year he led the league in charges taken. For a guy that doesn’t play as much, that speaks volumes of what he does. He can affect the game not just with his offense, but defensively. So it’ll be a great pickup for us. It’s a great vet for some of these young guys to listen to and what he has to offer.”
Coach Joe Mazzulla said backup center Luke Kornet is day-to-day after suffering an ankle sprain.