Don’t be surprised if Josh Smith is a member of the 2013-14 Boston Celtics .
Following the Hawks’ 83-80 loss in Game 6 — suffering their second first-round exit in Boston since 2008 — their should-be All-Star forward said everything short of swearing his allegiance to high school teammate Rajon Rondo .
“That’s a great basketball team over there in the Celtics,” said Smith, who finished Game 6 with 18 points (7-18 FG), nine rebounds and four assists. “They’ve done some special things since they acquired the Big Three. Since then, they’ve been doing some special things in the postseason. We can definitely learn a lot from that ball club.
“It definitely hurts not being able to get out of the first round,” he added. “Being able to get out of the first round in three consecutive years, falling short this year, I felt like we had the best opportunity to make it to the Eastern Conference finals this year moreso than other years. That’s obviously disappointing.”
If you can’t beat ’em, as they say, join ’em. That notion was palpable in Smith’s postgame (and post-series) press conference. The Rondo connection is an obvious one, although Smith’s admiration for the Celtics and their fans goes far beyond his senior year at Oak Hill Academy with the C’s three-time All-Star point guard.
“When you’re playing in an environment like the Boston Garden, they have probably the best fans,” Smith paused, and then thought better of completely throwing Atlanta fans under the bus, adding, “some of the best fans in the whole entire league. Like I said before, I was a little jealous, you know what I mean?
“The fans out here are so supportive of their team,” he said. “You go out and look in the stands, there’s nothing but Celtics jerseys and I don’t see a trace of red in there, you know what I mean? Understanding that the fans are that passionate, it adds an extra advantage for them. A bad shot can be as good as a turnover when you’re playing against a team like Boston, especially with the fanbase that they have.”
The College Park, Ga. native isn’t exactly being kind to his hometown fans, but Smith is sounding more and more like a guy who believes the organization that 17th overall in 2004 has reached its potential.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing that we couldn’t do something special this year,” said Smith. “The road was paved as good as its probably ever going to get for us, but we didn’t take advantage of it, and that’s the frustrating part.”
Think Smith wants to see if the grass is greener in Boston? He suggested as much this past summer when he listed the Celtics, Nets, Rockets and Magic as his preferred trade destinations , and he’ll have the pick of the litter when the remaining $13.2 million on his contract expires after next season.
“We can definitely learn something from that basketball team in the other locker room,” said Smith, repeating himself for a second time in five minutes. “The way they play collectively on the defensive end together, they really make you think and they really make you work for every point. We can definitely take their philosophies and apply it to this basketball team, because we’re long and athletic. Their philosophies can help this basketball team be one of the top defensive teams in the whole entire league next year.”
After next year, Smith becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. (The Hawks matched a five-year, $58 million offer sheet from the Grizzlies  in 2008.) Considering the lack of elite talent in this 2012 free agent class, many expect Celtics president Danny Ainge to make one more run next season with the current core while maintaining their cap flexibility for a superior 2013 class that includes Smith.
By then, the C’s will be freed of big contracts for Ray Allen  and Kevin Garnett , the latter of whom said he didn’t know if this was his last year or not during his epic press conference after Game 6 . For the record, Smith said of KG: “He’s definitely their emotional leader. He still has a lot in the tank. He still has a lot in the tank.”
That admiration goes both ways, as Garnett recently said Smith played “the best basketball of his career” this season, and respect doesn’t come easy from the Celtics center. Would Smith, a two-time NBA All-Defensive selection, relish sliding into Garnett’s role as the anchor of the C’s backcourt after next season, if not sooner (lest we forget the Celtics have sign-and-trade possibilities with Jeff Green  and others)?
“I think so,” said Oak Hill Academy coach Steve Smith  on Dennis & Callahan Tuesday morning . “I don’t see any negatives. Josh is a guy that stuffs the stat sheet every night with blocks and rebounds and scoring. Some nights he doesn’t score as well as others, and his shot is a little inconsistent, but he’s really a talented player.
“He’s coming into his own right now,” he added. “I think his best days are in front of him the next three or four years, so I think he’d be a great pickup if Boston decided to do that. I’m sure his relationship with Rajon — them being close — it would be a great situation for both of them.”
After all, only a few years removed from finishing their high school careers with a 38-0 record, Rondo introduced Smith to his wife and served as a member of the wedding party. Successful matchmaking is kind of their thing.
But first Rondo and the Celtics have this little matter of the 76ers and the Eastern Conference semifinals to settle. All the more reason for Smith to be jealous of Boston fans.
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