The Boston Celtics went out on a whimper last season. The C’s lost six out of their final eight regular-season contests before falling to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Now in a new season, Boston still can’t avoid bad news, the latest of which is an embarrassing mistake from Marcus Smart.
The Boston Celtics suspended Marcus Smart
Head coach Ime Udoka announced that Smart was suspended for Friday’s preseason finale against the Miami Heat. While the first-year head coach cited the reason as a breach of team rules, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported it was due to Smart missing the team flight to Orlando ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Magic.
“We hold Marcus to a high standard,” said Udoka. “We’ve made it clear from Day 1 … Just look forward to moving on from this, growing and obviously abiding by the team rules and principles. Marcus is one of our leaders that we expect a lot from, he understands that. He’s remorseful and we’ll move on from there.”
Smart has emerged as one of the Celtics’ most important players. The 27-year-old, entering his eighth season, averaged a career-high 13.1 points and 5.7 assists in 2020-21. He parlayed his career year into a four-year, $76.5 million extension, keeping him in Boston through 2025-26.
The hits keep coming for the Celtics
It would be one thing if Smart’s suspension was the lone bit of bad news of Boston’s preseason. But the last couple of weeks have been a little too eventful for the organization’s liking.
The Celtics have been hit hard with COVID-19. Udoka tested positive just ahead of training camp but managed to make it back to the team. However, both Jaylen Brown and Al Horford have since tested positive and remain in quarantine. There is a chance neither will be available for Boston’s season-opener against the New York Knicks.
“It’s going to be very close,” Udoka said. “We’ll see what happens with that, but we should definitely have Jaylen back by then.”
Additionally, new point guard Dennis Schroder has played in just one preseason game after battling a knee contusion. Schroder’s backup Payton Pritchard also suffered a broken nose on Wednesday that could leave his availability for the regular-season opener in doubt.
Are the Boston Celtics still contenders?
With young star Jayson Tatum leading the way, the Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020. But last season’s 36-36 record and subsequent first-round exit leaves their status as contenders in doubt. And now, a shaky preseason hasn’t helped their chances.
With Udoka replacing Brad Stevens as head coach, Boston could have used the preseason to acclimate to a new system. Instead, they’ve had key players missing left and right, with Brown, Horford, and now Smart all out for the final tune-up ahead of the regular season. Add in Schroder and Pritchard’s injuries, and the C’s are woefully shorthanded.
When the Celtics are healthy and fully intact, they won’t be a juggernaut either. Even with the new additions, Boston is likely to finish behind the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. To ascend up an improving Eastern Conference, they will need breakthrough seasons from someone like Robert Williams, as well as All-Star years from both Brown and Tatum.
It’s possible the Celtics finish above expectations in 2021-22. But if this preseason has been any indication, they’ll have an uphill battle to get there.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.