WALTHAM, Mass. – During the Boston Celtics’ practice last week, Jamar Smith passed the ball, ran through a series of screens and got the ball again at the 3-point line, his back to the basket.
Turn, shoot and swoosh.
Maine basketball fans saw the agile, 6-foot-3 Smith make that play countless times at the Portland Expo two years ago with the Maine Red Claws.
Talent? No doubt.
Enough to play for Boston?
“He’s an elite-level shooter,” said Austin Ainge, who coached Smith in Maine and now serves as the Celtics’ director of player personnel. “Plus he’s athletic as well as a great, energetic person.
Still, Boston wants more out of Smith. The Celts need a backup point guard to Rajon Rondo.
Kenyon Dooling had the job but suddenly retired last month. Veteran free agent Jason Terry appears capable, but Boston Coach Doc Rivers has said he wants Terry shooting, not playing the point.
Smith, 25, is a dark horse candidate. Entering Saturday’s exhibition game against the Knicks, Smith had no assists and five turnovers in two games (24 minutes of play).
“He’s not been consistent yet,” Rivers said after practice last Thursday. “I don’t know if he’s a point or not. That’s one of the things we’re working on and will find out.”
Smith can look at the roster and see the point (so to speak).
“They have so many two-guards here. My focus is trying to improve as a point guard, learn the offense, watch film, learn different situations, continue to get better,” he said.
Among those other guards are Courtney Lee, acquired from Houston this summer, and Dionte Christmas, who, like Smith, was overseas last year.
There is also Avery Bradley, the first-round pick from 2010, who is recovering from shoulder surgeries and won’t be back until mid-December.
Bradley played briefly in Maine with Smith. But Bradley was there for seasoning while Smith is still trying to establish himself.
And if he can’t crack the Celtics’ roster, will Smith head back to Portland?
“I don’t think about that right now,” Smith said. “I have to put all my energy into getting better. Put my energy into making this team and figuring out what my role is.”
The Red Claws might not be an automatic option. Smith left the D-League after his rookie season and played last year in the Czech Republic.
Like other pro players, Smith found the pay better overseas. The best players in the elite leagues make six figures. The Czech Republic League is not elite but still pays around $50,000 to $70,000 compared to the D-League’s pay scale of $12,000 to $25,000.
“I wanted to get a little money saved up before I decided to take another chance (on the NBA),” Smith said. “You can’t play basketball forever. You want to try to make as much money off the game as you can.”
This is Smith’s second attempt to make the Celtics. He was in their preseason camp in 2010 after his college career, first the University of Illinois and then Southern Indiana. He was cut and ended up in Portland.
Smith made the D-League’s 2011 All-Rookie team, averaging 13.6 points and five assists per game. He shot 49.7 percent from the field and made a team-high 105 3-pointers.
In the Czech Republic, he had similar numbers (14.9-point average).
The Celtics signed him again this past summer. In preseason camp, Smith is not only working on the point guard role, but is also honing his defense. It has been a challenge, Rivers said.
“But look, I wouldn’t want to guard Rondo every day in practice,” Rivers said.
Challenges or not, Smith is confident.
“I love my chances,” Smith said. “I never shy away from competition.”
EVEN IF SMITH is one of the 15 players chosen for the Celtics’ roster, he could still sometimes play in Maine.
The Red Claws are the sole affiliate of the Celtics this year. Up to three players on the 15-man roster can be sent down to play D-League games.
If Smith is cut by Boston, he will be offered a D-League contract in Portland. The money won’t be great but with the new agreement between the Red Claws and Boston, the Celtics are controlling the basketball side of the business.
If Smith’s future is playing point guard in the Celtics’ system, Portland might be his best option if he doesn’t yet make the NBA cut.
“He’s been learning the (point guard) position as a pro,” Ainge said. “He’s made great strides. I think he’ll get better and better as he gets more experience.”
THE CELTICS DON’T have to have their roster down to 15 until the end of the month. Their season opener is Oct. 30 in Miami.
The team still has five exhibition games left, including Monday in Philadelphia and its first game at the Garden on Tuesday vs. the Brooklyn Nets.
THE RED CLAWS will get an idea of their roster when the D-League conducts its draft Nov. 2. Training camp should begin around Nov. 12.
MAINE COACH Mike Taylor and his staff have been working with the Celtics during the preseason.
“It’s been like a clinic every day,” he said. “Doc and his staff have been fantastic. The Celtics have provided us an opportunity to learn the system and really just study. Man, I’m taking full advantage of it.”
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: