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Forsberg: Not a great start for Smart, Udoka sets tone

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Missing a flight is not the most egregious transgression that an NBA player can commit.

However, missing the first flight of the season, under a first-year head coach who is, presumably, considering you for one of the captains of the team that just delivered you a four-year, $77 million extension is, well, not a great look for Marcus Smart.

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Celtics head coach Ime Udoka and Smart were tight-lipped on Smart’s misstep for what ESPN reported was missing a team flight. The Celtics traveled to Orlando on Monday then had an offday there Tuesday before visiting the Magic on Wednesday. Smart was one of a handful of veterans that sat out against Orlando for rest. He’ll also miss Friday’s game in Miami due to suspension but will be available for Monday’s season-opener against the New York Knicks.

Smart has been fined or suspended for a whole bunch of different transgressions throughout his career, from flopping to shoving opponents to threatening referees. But breaking a team rule on the first trip of a new season with new leadership is not ideal for the longest-tenured member of the team.

The Celtics were already shorthanded two starters on this trip with Jaylen Brown and Al Horford sidelined with COVID. Smart’s absence further complicates the team’s opportunity to scout lineups and develop chemistry in its preseason finale on Friday.

Udoka said Smart expressed remorse for the rule violation, though Smart didn’t sound eager to do such in his media session on Thursday. After echoing the team’s plan to keep the discussions in-house, Smart was asked if it was frustrating to miss the team’s final preseason tuneup.


"It’s not frustrating to me. I mean, it’s frustrating I won’t be able to play, but it is what it is,” said Smart. "Like I said, we’ll handle that in house, and it’s over and done with and I’m looking forward to coming back to MSG and playing [opening night vs. the Knicks], so we’ll see.”

Smart repeatedly said “next question” when further probed on his conversation with Udoka.

Smart's transgression becoming public did afford Udoka a chance to firmly show that there will be the accountability that was promised upon his hiring. In punishing Smart, it’s a reminder to everyone on the roster that even the most minor infraction will have consequences.

“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."

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It will be interesting to see how Udoka proceeds with his plan to name captains. The knee-jerk reaction could be to suggest that Smart took himself out of the running with his transgression but you can make the case that one misstep should not overshadow seven seasons as one of the loudest and most respected voices on the team.

It does, however, make it easier if Udoka plans to further empower young All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with the captain title. Smart has already said that being a captain does not matter to him and he will continue to lead regardless if he’s formally named to that post.