Ime Udoka Has Strong Words for Celtics Veteran Amid Trade Rumors

Ime Udoka praises Marcus Smart

Getty Celtics head coach Ime Udoka.

Marcus Smart’s standing within the Boston Celtics organization has been difficult to pinpoint dating back to March’s trade deadline. The seven-year veteran was readily floated in trade talks that never materialized.

On one hand, the team’s decision to trade Kemba Walker looks to give Smart a direct path to claim the starting point guard spot for next season. The former No. 6 overall pick is coming off a career season where he made strides as a contributor and was readily lauded for his leadership traits. On the other, Smart has just one year remaining on his deal and is viewed in many NBA circles as Boston’s most realistic trade chip this offseason. Not to mention, The Athletic’s Jason Quick tossing around Smart’s name in hypothetical packages for Portland Trail Blazers sharpshooter CJ McCullum certainly isn’t going to help ease the trade speculation.

With that said, new head coach, Ime Udoka, doesn’t sound like a man ready to cut ties with Smart anytime soon.

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Ime Udoka: Marcus Smart is a ‘Foundational Piece’

The All-Star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are each undoubtedly pillars of the Celtics’ franchise. Yet, according to Udoka, they aren’t alone.

“Yeah,” Udoka said firmly when asked by 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak and Bertrand Show if he views Smart as another pillar on the team. “I’ve spent time with all three of those guys. And as I mention yesterday (during his introductory press conference), they all bring something different to the team. What Marcus brings is invaluable: he’s the heart and soul of the team at times.”

Udoka, who has a history working alongside Tatum, Brown and Smart with Team USA, commended the latter for his fearlessness when going toe-to-toe with the U.S. National Team while a part of the U.S. Select Team.

“He was the only guy who really wasn’t scared out there,” he claimed of Smart. “We got future NBA All-Stars and All-NBA guys, and they were a little timid at times. But Marcus was a very vocal leader. He has that edge and toughness about him, so the things he brings to your team are the things you love every player to bring. You hate playing against him, but you want him on your side. He’s another foundational piece. He’s been here through thick and thin, seen the winning and seen some down times. What he does for Jayson and Jaylen is invaluable in my eyes.”

Smart’s Status Remains in the Air

While it’s evident that Smart has a fan in Udoka, chances are the first-time head coach isn’t alone in his fondness for a player who offers All-NBA defensive traits and a budding offensive game as a distributor. Smart should have a market this offseason if exec Brad Stevens opted to shop the Texas native — a route Boston could take as opposed to splurging on an extension.

“Boston shouldn’t want to move him [Smart]. But his free agency might force its hand,” per Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale. “He will hit the open market in 2022, and it isn’t clear whether he makes enough to accept an earlier deal. The Celtics can start him at around $17.2 million in 2022-23 if they extend him. He might command more. Or they may not want to pay a non-star that much.”

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