BOSTON — Last year during the playoffs, shortly after the All-Defensive teams were announced, Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart was wrapping up a media availability in which reporters didn’t think to ask him the question he clearly wanted to answer.
“And that’s coming from a not top-five defender in the league,” Smart said in a raised voice as he walked away from the media scrum. “Just putting that out there.”
This week, the annual NBA GM survey came out. The annual questionnaire included plenty of Celtics names, and Smart was included — tied for second in “toughest player,” tied for fifth in “most impact when he enters the game,” and receiving votes for most versatile defender.
Smart said he hadn’t seen the list, and he appeared genuinely surprised when MassLive informed him he had been mentioned multiple times.
“I mean, I don’t need a list to tell me what I do best, what I’m good at,” Smart said. “I know. But it’s a compliment. It’s a respect factor for me in the league. I appreciate being on there, but I don’t really look into it too much.”
The biggest reason the Celtics love Smart, and one of the reasons they were happy to sign him to a four-year, $52-million deal this summer, is because of the way he plays. Smart, who flew around the court like a wrecking ball in Boston’s third preseason game on Tuesday, was one of the few players who treated the 102-95 loss to the Cavaliers like a much-needed tune up before the regular season. While he admitted he was a little frustrated with teammates who didn’t take the game seriously, especially with so few preseason contests available, Smart knows he is wired a little differently.
“I take pride in my game,” Smart said. “Playing the game of basketball the right way. That’s just playing hard every minute, every second throughout. For us competing, you never know when it could be taken away. I have a lot of adversity going in my life that even more showed me the importance of humility, being humble and things like that. I just try not to take any day for granted. It could be taken away.”
So while Smart wasn’t aware of the GM poll, he said he appreciated the sentiment.
“It feels good to know people recognize what I do, especially with players in this league, you can be criticized for things you don’t do,” Smart said. “For that to come out, that’s pretty cool.”
One area where Smart wasn’t included, however, was best perimeter defender, which was his point of contention last season with voters who didn’t include him on either the first or second All-Defense teams.
“I did feel like I should (have been on the All-Defense teams),” Smart said. “I’m one of the best defenders in this league, especially defending on the perimeter. I definitely feel like I should have been on one of those lists. To see guys I know don’t play defense — or nowhere near the defensive caliber I am — on it, it’s a slap across the face.”
Smart wisely declined to name any of the All-Defense players specifically who he felt were a slap across the face, but for the record, last year’s first-team All-Defense guards were Jrue Holiday and Victor Oladipo, with Robert Covington included at small forward. The second-team guards were Dejounte Murray and Jimmy Butler.
“Like I said, that doesn’t determine who I am,” Smart said. “So I never paid too much attention to it. I’ll try not to pay too much attention to it again.”
As a team, the Celtics have lofty goals: A deep playoff run and a shot at the Golden State Warriors and the franchise’s 18th banner in the playoffs.
Individual goals and accolades exist as well, of course, and Smart admitted he has some. The team goals, however, take precedence.
“I think that gets construed with today’s game,” Smart said. “It’s all about self, self, self. It takes five guys to hang a banner. Everybody’s so hyped up on these individual accolades that they don’t even care about the team and what the team does. That’s not how you’re supposed to play. Four other guys, you’re supposed to all be playing for one goal. Unfortunately, not everyone in this league does that. They have the right do that, but like I said, I was taught to play the game a certain way. That’s how I play.”