Ex-NBA Star Stoudamire Hoping to Bring out Best PG in Smart
After hiring his coaching staff this past offseason, Ime Udoka began pairing each of his new assistants with specific Celtics players with whom to work. One of the most obvious decisions in that process, from his point of view, was to form a partnership between Damon Stoudamire and Marcus Smart.
Entering his eighth season in Boston, Smart is about to take the biggest step of his career. He’s been handed the keys to the Celtics offense, so it will be his job, as their primary ball-handler, to help drive them as far as they can go.
Sitting behind the scenes in the backseat will be Stoudamire, a man who knows a thing or two about quarterbacking a team. A former 13-year point guard with the Raptors, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, and Spurs, Stoudamire brings more NBA playing experience than any coach in recent Celtics history.
“It’s just good to have an ex-point guard in that position,” Udoka told Celtics.com following the last official practice of the preseason Monday afternoon. “And with Marcus taking on more responsibility, having a guy that’s been there and done that and he can look to for advice, I think that’s invaluable.”
In working together over the past few weeks leading up to Wednesday night’s regular-season opener, Smart is beginning to recognize just how valuable Stoudamire’s presence is.
“He’s a great coach,” Smart remarked. “Obviously we know him as a really great player, and so to be able to have that type of experience from when he played and now bring it to the coaching side, to be able to really hand down that wisdom and knowledge to me is really good. So it’s been great working with him.”
As successful as he was as a player, earning 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year honors and going on to average 13.4 points, 6.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in 878 career games, Stoudamire doesn’t often bring his past experiences directly into conversations with his players. He takes a humbler approach, imparting his wisdom without making it about him.
Having extensive playing experience “does help,” Stoudamire says, “although, I don’t talk about it a lot. The one thing I do know, guys don’t want to hear about when you played. It’s not about me. But I have played in that position. I know the nuances of the game. I’ve seen it at a high level.”
And he’s educated many other point guards at a high level throughout the past 13 years he’s spent on the sidelines as a coach.
Two of the first players that Stoudamire coached were future All-Stars Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry when they were just beginning their respective NBA careers with the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s clear how much respect he gained throughout that process, exemplified by the fact that Lowry actually wore Stoudamire’s throwback Raptors uniform during Toronto’s championship parade in 2019.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with the likes of Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry,” Stoudamire reflected. “And now to be able to work with Marcus as he’s just about to enter the peak of his prime, I’m excited.”
Stoudamire’s phrasing there is key. Notice how he said, “work with Marcus” instead of “coach Marcus.” It’s a subtle difference, but it indicates that he is someone who tries to get on the same level as his pupils, as opposed to someone who adheres to the traditional hierarchy of a coach-player relationship.
In Smart’s eyes, that’s a critical quality for a coach to possess, because he wants someone who he can work with and not work for.
“As a coach, you’ve gotta be understandable,” Smart said. “You’ve got to understand certain situations with the player that you’re trying to coach. You have to understand who they are as a person, how they react to certain things, and think, ‘What can I do to help make them engaged in what we’re talking about?’ Some coaches just come in and they think, ‘Oh, it should be this way,’ but times have changed. You have to be able to evolve with the game and with the players, so having somebody who understands me as a person, understands my game, understands the type of game that I like to play, is important.”
Knowing that about Smart, and knowing Stoudamire’s coaching style, all tied into Udoka’s no-brainer of a decision to bring them together.
“Damon is really relationship-based, and that’s why I paired him with Marcus in the first place as someone he can bounce ideas of off,” said Udoka, who has known Stoudamire, a fellow Portland, Oregon native, since he was in the eighth grade. “It’ll be good hearing Damon’s voice, being a steadying voice coming out of games, and seeing things [Marcus] may not see.”
From what Stoudamire can see, there’s not much that Smart needs to add to his game skill-wise to help him excel as Boston’s starting point guard. He’s been groomed for success in this situation, having spent the past seven years playing alongside four All-Star point guards in Rajon Rondo, Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker. He’s proven himself as an elite passer and playmaker over the years, one who is trusted by Boston’s star pillars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
“Smart is a hell of a player,” said Tatum. “As good as he is on the defensive end, his playmaking is right up there. So having the ball in his hands is always a good thing.”
It’s also a good thing being the longest-tenured player on the team, because Smart knows this franchise, inside and out, better than anyone else in the Celtics’ locker room.
Putting all of those factors together, Stoudamire recognizes the fact that this situation he's about to enter with Smart is vastly different from when he was working with Conley and Lowry at the beginning of their respective careers.
“I’m not one of those guys that’s trying to be a miracle worker; this situation was really good when I stepped into it,” Stoudamire acknowledged. “A guy like Marcus Smart just finally has the opportunity as he steps into a starting role, to show everyone what he’s probably been thinking in his head that he’s capable of being the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics.”
With that being said, Stoudamire can still offer Smart a new perspective and endless wisdom, which should only benefit the 27-year-old as he enters his prime playing years.
“I really believe that Marcus has a ceiling that he hasn’t reached yet, and now it’s just a matter of getting him there,” Stoudamire said. “I’m excited to be working with him. I’m excited for his opportunity as the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, and I’ll do anything possible to help him reach and attain the level that he wants to, even if that means being a bad cop at times. I’ve always told him that my actions are showing you that, even if at times you don’t like me, it’s never coming from a bad place. I’m just trying to get you to be the player, maximize the player that you’re capable of being.”
Smart already plays with a chip on his shoulder and finds plenty of motivation from within, but he is excited to be around a teacher who will push him to another level.
“It’s one thing to self-motivate, but sometimes it’s hard,” Smart admitted. “There might be days where you just can’t get yourself to get to the standard that you think you should be at. That’s why you lean on your people. That’s why you lean on your coaches, your teammates – that circle – your friends, your family, to help you get that extra motivation. So it’s huge to be able to have a coach like that, that understands, ‘Sometimes I might have to get on his ass just to help him out on a day when it just might not be it for him and he needs that extra help.’”
Having extra help come at a time when he’s about to make the biggest transition of his career couldn’t have worked out more perfectly in Smart’s eyes. Welcoming Stoudamire into his corner will only add to his confidence in leading Boston’s offense.
“I know I’m a great point guard and I know the game, but it’s always good to have somebody who’s done it before you,” Smart said. “He’s been there, he’s already done it, so to hear another side, another view, to have him at the time he’s coming in, is perfect timing. It really is perfect timing. It’s only going to help me, and this team, all get better.”