Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart is revered as the heart-and-soul of Celtics defense. As the team’s longest-tenured player in the midst of its eighth season in Boston, Smart’s play has a lot to do with the Celtics’ recent success, including beating the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, respectively, back-to-back at TD Garden.
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Now, according to one Celtics legend, Smart’s legacy as one of the franchise’s greatest defenders of all time is already cemented.
Cedric Maxwell On Marcus Smart: ‘Best Defensive Player Under 6-Foot-8 The Celtics Ever Had’
In two-time Celtics champion, 1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell’s new book titled, If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Boston Celtics Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box.
“Here’s how great Smart is: I believe he’s the best defensive player under 6-foot-8 (Bill Russell’s height) the Celtics have ever had,” Maxwell wrote, per author Mike Isenberg. “And for me to say that didn’t come easy given that the great Dennis Johnson was one of my best friends.”
Maxwell’s comment didn’t sit well with another former player, who like Cedric, is now also a current broadcaster.
“After I made that statement, former player/coach and current ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson told me he disagreed, saying, ‘I’m taking D.J. because I played against him.’ As I told Jackson, that’s all well and good but I played with D.J,” Maxwell recalled, in his new book. “Smart can guard anyone, and I mean anyone, especially in today’s NBA where big guys play on the perimeter.”
Maxwell: ‘It’s Easy to See Why Ainge Loved Smart’
Max also credits former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who not only made the right executive decision in taking Marcus sixth overall in the 2014 draft but for recognizing what he saw in Smart resonated with who Ainge was as a player.
“It’s easy to see why Ainge loved Smart,” Maxwell wrote of the two-time Celtics champion, former GM. “He was the same type of irritant on the floor.”
It was also easy to see, by Maxwell’s estimation, at the time, that Marcus’ immediate future remained in Boston, as Ainge ensured to extend his All-Defensive talent’s rookie contract.
“Ainge did something really smart that not a lot of people noticed a few years ago,” Maxwell wrote. “Smart’s contract was up, and Ainge planned on paying him somewhere between $12 to $14 million per year. I thought that a team like the Pacers would come up with some crazy deal worth like $18 million. Smart went out on the market, and nobody was showing him money. But when he came back to the Celtics, Ainge could have made him grovel and lowered the offer. Instead, Ainge honored his original offer, and Smart signed the contract.
“By not changing the offer, he allowed Smart to keep his pride and dignity.”
Smart has two NBA All-Defensive First Team selections (2019, 2020) under his belt. This season, he’s averaging 10.1 points, 5.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.4 steals a night — which is ranked third behind Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul (2.5), Chicago Bulls’ Alex Caruso (2.4) for most steals per night, according to NBA Advanced Stats.