WALTHAM — On the morning of April 26, Marcus Smart woke up in a panic. It wasn’t because the Celtics had a playoff game against the Cavaliers that afternoon, or because a loss would end Boston’s season with a four-game sweep. It was because he was supposed to be at TD Garden, and instead he was in bed.
Smart said he set four alarms for that morning. The rookie guard was not sure if he slept through them or they never went off, but he was sure he was late. As Smart drove from his Waltham home toward the Garden, he called his agent, Josh Ketroser.
“And he was freaking out,” Ketroser said. “ I told him to relax and drive safely and he’d get there. I think more than anything he was disappointed, because he looks at himself as a team leader, and team leaders don’t let that stuff happen.”
Smart missed the Celtics’ pregame shootaround and coach Brad Stevens benched him for the first quarter of the 101-93 loss. Then the season was over, leaving Smart no chance to make amends.
During an interview at the team’s training facility Thursday, it was clear the moment still bothered Smart, even if most other people had moved on.
“I just don’t want to give anybody a reason to label me as something I’m not,” he said quietly.
Smart’s rookie season was, by most measures, a success. He averaged 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists, and showed he could become an elite defender. He was a second-team all-rookie selection and helped guide the Celtics to an unlikely playoff berth.
But internally, he focuses on where he fell short, where he was slighted, and where he can make progress.
He is still upset about oversleeping before Game 4, and for striking Spurs forward Matt Bonner during a March game in San Antonio — which resulted in an ejection and one-game suspension.
“I didn’t have a reason to do it,” Smart said. “I’m a lock-up defender and I believe strongly in my defense, so I don’t need to take cheap shots at guys to get an edge.”
He is still frustrated by his shooting percentage (36.7), and annoyed his ankle injury suffered in November never truly went away.
He still thinks he should have been in the Rising Stars Challenge, an all-star game involving first- and second-year players. And he still believes he should have been a first-team all-rookie choice.
“That’s just another thing that’s on my book, my mind, that’s keeping me going and motivated into this summer,” Smart said.
And that is why, after a brief trip home to Texas to see family, he is now back in Waltham, training for several hours a day with Celtics assistant coach Darren Erman. They have worked on shooting, ball-handling and defense, and how to make proper reads coming off of pick-and-rolls.
“If he continues to work,” Erman said, “he can eventually be an All-Star.”
Smart said his workouts have been productive because, for the first time in months, his left ankle is not a hindrance. He suffered the sprain and a bone bruise while attacking the rim on a fast break during a Nov. 7 game against the Pacers. He returned Dec. 3 but was in pain for most of the season.
“I just couldn’t get my regular explosiveness,” Smart said. “It just wasn’t the same. I never really gave it that time to heal on its own. I was always putting more pressure on it and pushing it and pushing it.”
Smart constantly iced the ankle and received electro-stimulation and would sometimes arrive at TD Garden six hours before tipoff to loosen the joint.
“There were days I just wanted to call it quits and have my rookie season be over,” he said. “There were days where it was really bothering me to where I could barely walk on some mornings. I tried not to limp, I tried not to show it, because I didn’t want to be taken out of a game or use it as an excuse. But now I can’t really deny that my ankle played a big part in some games.”
Although that setback was frustrating, it has given Smart hope as he digs into his first NBA offseason. If he can have a successful year on one good leg, he reasons, what might be possible when he is operating on two? He is eager to find out.
Though there are no guarantees, Smart is widely viewed as one of the cornerstones of the Celtics’ rebuild. It is a position he relishes and takes seriously.
“But it also lets me know I have a lot to do and a lot to handle in a short amount of time,” Smart said. “So I’ve got to get to work.”
. . .
The Celtics brought in six more players for predraft workouts on Thursday: Cliff Alexander (Kansas), George de Paula (Pinheiros—Brazil), David Kravish (California), Chasson Randle (Stanford), Maxie Esho (UMass), and Satnam Singh (IMG Academy). The team is scheduled to hold more workouts on Friday.