Monday, April 21, 2014
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.
Jamar Smith hopes to crack the Boston Celtics’ roster as a backup point guard but may wind up in Portland for a second stint with the Red Claws.
2011 File Photo/Derek Davis
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.
(Continued on page 2)