BOSTON - Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart said he won't begrudge Kyrie Irving and Al Horford if they elect to depart this summer but he was staunch in suggesting that Boston remains a destination for championship-seeking players.
Smart, decked out in a Celtics-green cobra shirt and a black bandana, met with reporters Tuesday during a break in his annual youth camp on the campus of Brandeis University and went to bat for the city when asked about the notion that players might not want to come here.
"I think it kind of speaks for itself. We've got the Patriots, we've got the Bruins, we've got the Red Sox, we've got the Celtics. You name me another city that's got four teams in different categories like that that's all known for winning championships," said Smart. "It gets no better than that.
"I don't know who is saying that, or why they're saying it, who knows? But, for me, being here and experiencing it for myself, Boston is definitely a place you want to be, especially if you're trying to compete for a championship."
Smart said he's talked with Irving since the end of the season but steered clear of basketball topics. He admitted Irving's potential departure, and that of Horford, did catch him by surprise a bit, though he's become numb to change during his time in the NBA. Smart is focused on what he can do to get Boston back on track after a maddening year.
"I see my role as bigger than ever now," said Smart, who started alongside Irving much of last season but could slide into the first-unit point guard role depending on how Boston's offseason plays out. "Just because, once again, being that longest-tenured Celtic, going into my sixth season and really understanding [coach] Brad [Stevens] and this organization, and the system that he likes to run, and just, that's who I am.
"And I've got to be that times 10 now, because we are going through some things. We did have a bad year. We've just got to keep everybody on the same track."
Smart said he's bullish on Boston's outlook moving forward.
"I'm excited. We're excited. As competitors, you have a season like we did last year and it leaves a funny taste in your mouth," said Smart. "We use that as our motivation and to keep going. We're very excited. Whatever team or whatever people or whoever is on the board or whoever is on this roster with us, we're excited to have them to go out there and fight."
Smart praised Boston's quartet of recent draftees, which included a pair of backup point guards in Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters. He said he's unlikely to meddle in free agency, letting Danny Ainge and his staff handle that, but offered to make a pitch if needed.
Reflecting on last season, Smart hinted that the tensions reported in Boston's locker room might not have been as catastrophic as suggested. Right after the season, Smart went to bat for Irving when it was suggested he caused much of Boston's issues this season.
"Even in the regular season, it wasn't a disconnect," said Smart. "It was just a lot of people kind of got in and -- it was like a telephone game. You tell one person this and by the time it gets back to you, the whole narrative had changed. That's kind of how it goes. Like I said, you can only control what you can control. You focus on what you can focus on. As a player, you focus on getting into the gym, getting yourself better and you let the front office handle the front office stuff and you do what it is you need to do for the team."
Still, Smart sounds eager to wipe the slate clean and start a new season.
"Hey, the thing is, the Raptors just won the championship, right? But they've got to start back over from the beginning just like we do," said Smart. "So we all start back over at the starting line, we all start at zero, and we all get a chance to do it. So everybody's starting over, regardless if they have the same team or not, they've all got to start from the beginning.
"That's how we take it. We take it as we come in, and we have an opportunity to do something special, and we get another chance to do it."
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