WALTHAM, Mass. – While there were a number of obvious on-court elements that lured Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics this summer, there were also some attractive off-court features that caught his attention. One of the primary examples that he detailed Friday morning is the team’s unique rest and recovery system.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens places a strong emphasis on his players getting proper and consistent rest throughout the season. Such a philosophy is music to the ears of a player like Irving whose last three seasons have all spanned eight-plus months thanks to three straight Finals appearances.
“That was one of the first things that Brad and our medical staff stressed to me was that our practice schedule and our routine is based on getting optimal recovery for the guys on the floor, and I’m all for that,” Irving said Friday morning ahead of the team’s noontime practice at its training facility. “It’s a great thing to know that our head coach and our medical staff believe in getting a lot of sleep and a lot of recovery.”
What fans may not realize is that the grind of the campaign goes well beyond the half-dozen preseason games, 82 regular season contests and potentially two dozen-plus playoff games. Teams also have off-day practices and morning shootarounds on game days, meaning there’s not much time for their players to rest.
While teams obviously cannot alter their respective game schedules, they can arrange the rest of their time as they please. The Celtics have done their best to design a routine that allows their players to rest and recover as much as possible, while still getting in enough work on the court so that they are fully prepared for each opponent.
Unlike most teams, the Celtics do not hold early-morning practices on off days. Instead, Stevens encourages his players to sleep in on mornings after games, and he will then typically hold a noontime or early-afternoon practice.
“If you have a 10 a.m. shootaround, because of some of the traffic issues at that time, guys are getting up even earlier to deal with that,” explained Stevens. “So for us, 12 o’clock makes more sense, and then it kind of [works well] with the rest of our schedule as we go on throughout the entire year. The good part is guys do get in here (early) and get their lifts done, get their shooting done, and then you can practice and go on about your way.”
Another unique approach that the Celtics have is that they never have game-day morning shootarounds in Boston. Again, Stevens urges his players to rest up in the morning, and then the team goes through a late-afternoon walkthrough a few hours ahead of game time at TD Garden.
“I love it,” Irving said as he pictured the new daily routine that lies ahead of him. “It goes a long way in having later practices or a standard time to where you can get a good night’s sleep, whether it’s on back-to-backs or whether it’s on regular games days. I’m appreciative of it and I know the younger will as they get older.”
Newcomer Gordon Hayward is also appreciative of the new routine. The All-Star wing admits that he’s a morning person, but having no early practices or morning shootarounds means that he’ll get to spend more time with his wife and kids at home.
“I think it makes sense with sleep and avoiding some of the traffic issues, for sure,” said Hayward. “I’ve always been somebody that gets up and does things super, super early, so I’ll just have some more time on my hands and I’ll get a chance to hang out with the girls before practice. But [the routine] definitely makes sense.”
Ultimately, the goal is to keep players rested enough to last the entire season. Other teams have had issues managing rest over the last few years and many playoff-bound teams have opted to rest their top players for full games during the final stretch of the regular season.
The league has taken issue with this approach because many teams have benched top players during marquee matchups on national television. As a result, the NBA now has a rule in place that allows commissioner Adam Silver to fine teams at least $100,000 if they rest a healthy player during a high-profile game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers took this approach with Irving in the past so that he could be in tip-top shape for the postseason. He believes, however, that he could play a full, 82-game regular season schedule, followed by a two-month playoff slate at full strength, if a proper rest-and-recover routine is in place.
He believes that, barring injury, the Celtics’ system could help him achieve that goal.
“I’m doing my due diligence, as well as my teammates, to be prepared to be on the floor,” said Irving. “When you’re working in congruency with a great medical staff and great coaches that understand how important it is to get your rest, then they’re giving us a great chance to be at our optimal level to perform out there on the floor.”