Celtics’ Marcus Smart on NBA Finals regrets, Kevin Durant trade talks and more

The Athletic

Marcus Smart is finally getting some sleep. It’s been nearly three months since he and the Celtics lost the NBA Finals, but time can only heal so many wounds.

“I catch myself sleeping sometimes, and then I wake up and the light’s hitting,” Smart told The Athletic. “Then there’s some days that I can’t sleep and I’m on YouTube watching everything (from the NBA Finals). My girlfriend’s like, ‘Get off, it’s over, let it go.’ I can not. That’s the beauty of us competitors.”

Already entering his ninth season in Boston, Smart has taken on just about every role with the franchise, from point guard to point center — but there’s only so much he can do. That was a lesson the Celtics learned over the course of the year, when they struggled to jell early on, rode a remarkable wave of connectedness late in the year, then marched through the Eastern Conference before hitting a wall against the Warriors.

Ime Udoka had to shore up his rotation to get the Celtics’ season back on track, but the consequences eventually revealed themselves and it was apparent coming into free agency that the impressive core at the top of the depth chart needed more help.

“I think depth was one of the big things that hurt us,” Smart said. “You had me, Jayson (Tatum), Jaylen (Brown) and our starters playing, clawing (up the standings) and we did it to ourselves.”

That’s been the common refrain from his teammates as they’ve looked back at what went wrong at the very end. When Tatum spoke to The Athletic last monthhe said his biggest lesson from running out of gas in June was to start off on the right foot in October.


Draymond Green and Marcus Smart. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“Yeah, not wait ’til January to be the best player. Have a better start,” Tatum said. “I think that just comes from making sure my body feels good from the jump and just dominating night in, night out. That’s what the best of the best players do.”

Tatum was the primary option last year and it was apparent by the Milwaukee series that all of those explosive offensive nights were taking their toll. By the time the Celtics reached Game 6 of the finals, Smart was one of the few ballhandlers on the team still capable of getting to the rim and making a play.

But he’s still feeling the aftereffects of the playoff grind, telling CLNS Media’s Bobby Manning that, while he is back on the court, his ankle is still healing and he isn’t quite 100 percent yet. So Brad Stevens brought in reinforcements this offseason, trading for Malcolm Brogdon and signing Danilo Gallinariwho tore his ACL earlier this month during FIBA ​​World Cup qualifying.

“We put ourselves in that situation early on, having to fight back through injuries and stuff,” Smart said. “Being able to have that depth of guys who are experienced and understand the game such as Gallo and Brogdon definitely will help us with that.”

Maybe Gallinari will be back at some point in the playoffs, but so much of Boston’s championship hopes will rest on Brogdon coming in and giving Smart, Brown and Tatum a break every once in a while. It’s not about letting them take a night off, but rather a few possessions every night.

When Brogdon was watching the Celtics stall in the finals, he saw a perfect place for him to step into the rotation and help with the burden the Smart-Tatum-Brown triumvirate was carrying.

“If I came in there, I could give them a steady presence and a calm as a ballhandler and facilitator, getting guys like Brown and Tatum easy shots,” Brogdon told The Athletic the day of the trade. “Just slowing the game down in those moments when we need to get a good shot.”

The deeper they got into the playoffs, the greater the need for a player who can stay grounded in the eye of the storm. It’s why the Celtics reportedly went after Kevin Durantoffering Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and a draft pick to Brooklyn according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Considering Smart’s name has been the first name to pop up in Celtics trade talks for years, it was easy for him to tune the rumors out.

“For someone who’s always talked about in trade talks, I didn’t really pay too much mind to that. Until it actually happens, I don’t believe it,” Smart said of the rumors. “We can sit here and say this person said this, but we don’t even know who said it. It’s like a telephone game. By the time it gets back to you, you don’t know what changed and who said what. Until it actually happens, I try to pay trade rumors no mind.”

Now the Celtics will return fully loaded, aiming for a smoother regular season and a less treacherous path toward a repeat finals trip. With training camp just a few weeks away, Smart only has a few more nights of sleepless remorse before he has no choice but to move forward.

“I am glad to be able to say we have the team still together,” Smart said. “We made a run and we left a little bit on the table. We want to run it back.”

(Top pic: Cary Edmondson/USA Today)

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