Marcus Smart plans to extend his leadership role off the court in Memphis this season.
The veteran point guard, who was part of the June 22 three-team trade that landed Kristaps Porzingis in Boston, will be a key player for the Grizzlies while Ja Morant serves a 25-game suspension to open the 2023-24 campaign.
Smart, 29, said he wants to earn Morant’s trust and be a resource for him as the troubled star gets his career back on track.
“Ja is a very special player, very special player, and he’s very important to the team,” Smart, who previously spent nine years with the Celtics, said, according to ESPN.
“For us to do anything great, we’re going to need Ja, and we’re going to need Ja to be the best he can be. So for me as a competitor, I love to push guys to the limit, especially a guy who’s great.”
Morant, 23, has faced punishment from the NBA for “conduct detrimental to the league” after he flashed a gun on social media twice in a three-month period.
The young guard has a boatload of talent, and Smart — the 2022 winner of NBA Defensive Player of the Year — said building a strong relationship with Morant will be intangible to the Grizzlies’ success.
“I’ve done it over in Boston with those guys and those are my brothers, so I want to have that same relationship with Ja. Like I said, he’s a great player and we’re gonna need him to do what we wanna do.”
During Smart’s tenure with the Celtics, he was the heart and soul of the squad, providing versatile perimeter defense and an unwavering desire to win.
The 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year fits in perfectly with Memphis’ “Grit n’ Grind” mentality and will look to bring his play-making ability over to the budding team.
Smart averaged a career-high 6.3 assists per game in the 2022-23 season, along with 11.5 points and 1.5 steals.
“I’m excited to start a new journey in my life and in my basketball career, and what better way to than to be in a city where it fits me perfectly?” Smart said. “Grind City. I’m a grinder; that’s what I do.”
With Smart on their side and Morant eventually making a return, Memphis is aiming to up advance farther in the playoffs after falling in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs to the Los Angeles Lakers.