September 1, 1991
"Business," said Smith. "All business. The Celtics are a smart organization. They made an investment last year they knew would be risky, but one that could possibly pay dividends.
"They know as well as anyone else if I'm healthy, I'll do a hell of a job for them. If not, then I'm out of the picture."
Can Smith be healthy for the 1991-92 season? Team physician Arnold Scheller and trainer Ed Lacerte made a pit stop to see him during their Injury Tour, which included visits to Kevin McHale in Minnesota and Larry Bird in Indiana. According to Smith, Boston's medical team was optimistic, but he hopes they understand if he doesn't do a backflip over their prognosis.
"I trust Arnie and Eddie, they are the absolute best, but I can't jump up and down for joy just because they are optimistic," Smith said. "I've been down this road too many times, and I've been let down too many times.
"Everyone thinks I'm done. There's no interest in me out there. I've been told I was through three times before, but this isn't like the first time, when I said, 'Oh God, I need the money, I need the security, I need the headlines, I need to know if I belong.' I don't need any of that anymore.
"What I need to do is bust my butt, get healthy, then go up to Boston and carve guys up. I don't care who they put in front of me, I'll eat them alive. If I can't, then it's over."
It has been stated before that the battle Smith is waging is as much psychological as it is physical. He wants to be the same player who scored 23 points a night for the Clippers, but that's no longer possible. If the Celtics do sign him (and that's a big if until he receives medical clearance), they will do so with the idea that he can be a valuable reserve - not a go-to guy.
Smith wants more than he was given last season. He said he will not report to camp unless he has a contract and he will not suit up unless he's assured playing time.
"I'm not going to try out for the Celtics," he said. "I'll retire before I try out for anybody. I've had a good career. After all this time, it would be rubbish to ask me to try out, to carry the balls and the bags, to sweat through two-a-days to prove I can play.
"I'll know if I'm healthy long before camp. And if I am, the folks from Boston can come down, take a look and make a decision.
"But I won't come to Boston unless I play 18-20 minutes a game. I'm not coming back to play 3 minutes a game. I'm not coming to play 10 games. I'm coming if I'm part of the whole 82-game picture."
Rash statements such as that have gotten Smith into trouble before. You might recall the night he was activated last season, when he looked so good against New Jersey, then claimed the Celtics were rushing him back before he was ready. Smith apologized the next day, went back on the injured list, then came back one more time for the postseason.
His demand to play 18-20 minutes a night is not only unreasonable, it's unwise. Let's hope it doesn't rankle the front office so much they decide to abandon Smith completely, because there is a place on this team for him.
Smith's enthusiasm, his toughness, and yes, even his bravado are in short supply on the Celtics. During his short tenure, he breathed life into a veteran club that needed some spark and some spunk. He challenged the young players, goaded the older ones and was a constant source of entertainment and motivation to all.
Twenty minutes a night? Sorry, Derek, that's asking too much. But what's wrong with 10-15 minutes? If you are healthy (that "if" is a constant in discussing all of this), you'll have a chance to make one more championship run, and you'll have a chance to nestle yourself even further into the hearts of Celticsfans. You could be the next M.L. Carr in a heartbeat.
Smith has gone to Cincinnati this weekend to begin four intensive weeks of training with Danny Manning, Kevin Gamble, Brad Lohaus and other Ron Grinker clients. He is convinced that by the end of those four weeks, he will know whether his career can continue or whether it's time to retire to his new Louisville home.
Here's hoping Smith's knee cooperates. Here's hoping the Celtics ink him in late September and he storms into camp in October looking to eat guys alive. I don't know about you, but I'd like to see him inCeltic green, jawing with Chuck Person, just one more time.
Life in the limelight
The coach of the world champions was chopping wood one afternoon outside his Montana retreat.
"It's a remote spot," Phil Jackson explains. "Really off the beaten path. You'd have to go through an awful lot of trouble find it."
Evidently, people did.
"I was out there one day, clearing some brush, taking down some trees, and I turn around and there's some fan with this stupid grin on his face, holding a pen and asking for an autograph," he said. "It probably only happened about three or four times this summer, but, boy, it really unnerves you."
Each of us chooses to celebrate life's greatest pleasures in his or her own way. Jackson, whose Bulls stormed to the NBA title last June, chose to escape to his cabin, away from fans, media, players and the endorsement people.
That's why you haven't heard anyone skipping up the street singing, "If I could be like Phil . . ."
"There were some endorsement opportunities out there, but I just decided not to do any of them," said Jackson. "Some people like to make the offseason a lucrative business venture. For me, the journey was the reward."
This weekend, as he has for the past six Labor Days, Jackson journeyed up to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., to teach a course titled, "Beyond Basketball." Jackson instructs a class of about 42 in examining the game not just as a sport, but as a way to reveal and express personality traits, and a way to release emotions. A couple of doors down the hall, former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee teaches "Beyond Baseball."
"I have a lot of repeats each year, so we've really grown as a group," said Jackson. "Most of my students are doctors or psychologists or professors. They want to look at sport in a different light, but they also want to know how to improve their jump shot."
Jackson said the championship ring he brings to Rhinebeck has come at a price - privacy.
"Everything's different," he said. "This year a reporter from The New York Times wants to attend the class. He better not disrupt our curriculum."