New Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka had plenty of praise for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in his introductory press conference Monday, calling the two All-Stars the team's "young pillars" for whom "the sky is the limit."
But where does Marcus Smart fit into the equation?
While Smart doesn't boast Tatum or Brown's offensive talent, he's the Celtics' longest-tenured player and arguably their best defender. Do Smart's experience and intangibles make him the third Boston "pillar," or do his offensive shortcomings relegate him to another category?
Udoka suggested the former Tuesday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" radio show.
"I've spent time with all three of those guys," Udoka said, referring to his time coaching Tatum, Brown and Smart as an assistant on Team USA at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. "They all bring something different to the team, and what Marcus brings is invaluable. (He's) the heart and soul of the team at times.
" ... Marcus is 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.
"So, he's another foundational piece. He's been here through thick and thin, seen some winning and seen some down times, and so what he does for Jayson and Jaylen is invaluable in my eyes."
It makes sense why Udoka would value Smart's skill set. The 43-year-old head coach was a hard-nosed, defensive-minded NBA player who carved out a seven-year career after going undrafted. Defense was Udoka's primary responsibility as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019-20 and Brooklyn Nets in 2020-21, and he pledged to bring a "defensive mentality" to Boston in Monday's press conference.
But Smart also shot just 39.8% from the floor last season and is entering the final year of his contract. So, new Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens must decide how much he values the other parts of Smart's game when weighing whether to offer the 27-year-old a contract extension or use him as a trade chip this offseason.
Udoka's comments Tuesday were a strong vote of confidence for Smart and will be worth revisiting if Smart lands that extension this summer.