Most NBA teams that register the best conference record in the regular season might do a bit of off season tweaking, try and add a role player or two to get over the top. Not Danny Ainge and Celtics.
With only four returning players from last season – Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford – one of the main focal points for the team will be how long it’ll take for them to be on the same page as the season progresses.
“In a lot of ways I feel like I took a new job,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “As a coach, you’re always thinking about ‘okay, what do we need to do to get better from last year, how do we need to improve.’ Looking at our stats and talking about our team about how we want to improve. Ten of the guys are going to be looking at me like ‘I wasn’t here last year.’”
The upheaval of the roster was an unexpected one. As Celtics general manager and team president Danny Ainge said “we don’t plan on doing this same thing next summer.” Ainge cited salary cap management and future contracts of certain players as reasons for the changing of the team.
With a team featuring only two 30-year-old players – Aron Baynes and Horford – Ainge and his staff wanted to create continuity going forward for the young team, which played a reason into why Ainge doesn’t envision this off-season being repeated in 2018.
“The longer they play together, the better they should get,” said Ainge.
As Ainge and Stevens look for team chemistry, they know all formulas start with star newcomers, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
"It is different," Hayward said about being in the spotlight. "It's something that's different for me as a person. As I've always flown under the radar since I was in high school. That's just how it's been and I definitely don't mind it like that."
"There's just a lot of newness that I just have to get use to, which I'm excited about," said Irving. "A lot of challenges and a lot of things I have to be very, very resilient about. It's going to come in waves and I'm understanding of that. So, I'm looking forward to the challenge and excitement."
Horford is the only returning starter. Possibly joining him in that role could be Smart, who in his fourth season is now the longest tenured player on the Celtics.
“Everybody wants to start, “said Smart. “I think growing up, every athlete that plays a sport would love to hear his name in that starting lineup. Like I said, we all have one common goal and that’s to win a championship. Whether I start or not is out of my control, and I can only control what I can control.”
When it comes to the Celtics gelling together, Smart is optimistic since he finds all-stars Irving, Hayward and Horford to be team orientated
“I think once you have guys that are on the same page, it’s not hard to build that chemistry,” said Smart.
Coach Stevens relayed that the staff spent the past month working on ways to make the integration of all the new players as “seamless, for everybody, as possible.” Once the new and veteran players are comfortable with each other, it’ll return to creating a team identity.
Prior to the roster uproar, the team was known for their grit and grind as they held a defensive rating of 105.5 (12th in the league) and held opponents to 105.4 points per game (15th in the league).
“Ultimately we want our identity to be a team that gets better everyday,” said Stevens.
Offensively, on paper, it looks like the team added more fire power led by Irving, Hayward and possibly Jayson Tatum off the bench. Last season, the team averaged 108 points per game (8th in the league) with an offensive rating of 108.6 (4th in the league). From a stats point of view, the calling card for the team might be on the offensive side of the court, in comparison to the team’s historical identity for great defense.
The process of building chemistry and creating more of an identity begins Tuesday in Newport, Rhode Island, as the team will hold training camp at Rodgers Recreation Center on the campus of Salve Regine University from Tuesday to Thursday.