CANTON, Mass. – It’s been quite some time since the Boston Celtics have had a roster as talented as the one they have compiled for the 2017-18 season. That being said, their work will be cut out for them as they embark on the upcoming 82-game regular season grind, and beyond.
The Celtics are in a strange position, to say the least, as they enter training camp. They are the reigning No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference; yet, this season they will be featuring almost an entirely new cast of players on the court.
Only four players will be returning from last season’s squad after a chaotic summer full of trades and free agent signings. More than a dozen new men in Celtics uniforms showed up Monday at Media Day in Canton, Massachusetts. Those dozen-plus players will have to quickly acclimate themselves to Brad Stevens’ system with the regular season beginning in just a little more than three weeks.
“In a lot of ways, I felt like I took a new job, because as a coach you’re always thinking about what do we need to get better at since last year,” said Stevens, reflecting back on the crazy summer, while looking ahead to tomorrow when training camp begins in Newport, R.I. “I’m thinking about looking at some of our stats and talking to our team about how we want to improve; well 10 of the guys are going to be looking at me like, “I wasn’t here last year.”
“I think that there’s a reality that we have to be able to focus on the details,” Stevens continued. “We have to be able to focus on what we do best. We know what everybody knows best individually. How that complements each other, and how we can bring that out sooner rather than later is the task at hand.”
Because the new-look Celtics have hardly any time to prepare before the regular season tips off, many of the players showed up to the Waltham training facility a couple of weeks early so that they could begin to get to know each other.
Newcomer Kyrie Irving, a four-time All-Star point guard and 2016 NBA Champion, expects to be a primary leader of this team, so he was one of several Celtics who began getting early reps in.
“These first few days have been great,” Irving said Thursday night while speaking at a uniform unveil event in the Seaport District of Boston. “Brad has been great. Most of the guys have been in (the gym), so it’s felt like a real college-type vibe. It’s real intimate and I enjoy it because there’s a lot of teaching that can go on.”
The teaching aspect won’t fall solely on the shoulders of Stevens and the coaching staff; the four remaining players – Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart – have all expressed desire to take on leadership roles by educating their new teammates on the Celtic way.
“We’ve already started with some of that by just making sure that all the guys are feeling comfortable with our offensive system, and especially on defense with the concepts and everything,” Horford said Monday afternoon. “For us, it’s just going to be a day-to-day thing, just because there’s a lot to learn. There are a lot of new guys, and we need that in-game experience. With the shortened preseason it puts a little more pressure on us to come together, but it’s going to be a process that we’re excited about.”
Smart, who at just 23 years old is Boston’s longest-tenured player, explains that’s exactly why this week’s training camp will be so important. The goal of the three-day retreat in Newport is that the players will begin to build chemistry so that they will be as comfortable with one another as possible once the season starts.
“Those extra practices are to get used to [each other],” said Smart. “We bring in an All-Star guard in Kyrie, who’s been to the championship, who’s been to the Finals, who’s won a ring, who knows what it takes. We bring in an All-Star in Gordon Hayward, who’s had the luxury of playing for Brad (at Butler University), and who knows what Brad likes. These are all guys who are very team-oriented guys. And we all have one thing in common, and that’s to win a championship. And I think once you have guys who are on the same page, it’s not hard to build that chemistry.”
However, as the philosophically-minded Brown likes to say, “Rome wasn’t built in one day.”
In other words, it will take some time for this group to build to its fullest potential. Veteran All-Star Hayward anticipates some growing pains at first, but expects things to come along once the new Celtics, including himself, have had some quality game reps under their belts together.
“Some challenges are going to be trying to learn what are all of our strengths are, like where we like to have the ball and where certain players are going to be without having to think about it,” said Hayward. “Those are the things that are going to take time by just being around each other on the court and just experiencing it by playing in the games.”
In the meantime, the Celtics will be doing all they can to acclimate themselves with one another as quickly as possible. The process begins tomorrow when the new-look C’s hit the court at training camp.