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The cooler: Danny Ainge tempers expectations before first preseason game

“I’m optimistic. I’m hopeful for guys stepping up and exceeding expectations, instead of making high expectations,” Ainge said at the Celtics’ Fan Fest on Saturday.

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2019 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Training Camp - Los Angeles Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Before a season ticket holders’ event at TD Garden, Danny Ainge made his first public comments of the new season. As the man responsible of putting together last season’s talent-laden roster and rebuilding the team this summer with the departure of four key veterans, the Celtics GM cooled some of the enthusiasm on what is the fifth youngest team in the league.

Good vibes and catchy sound bites have echoed out of The Auerbach Center since even before Media Day on Monday and the start of training camp on Tuesday. Despite last season’s disappointment, the signing of Kemba Walker and the positive reviews of Gordon Hayward’s summer have softened the blow. The plethora of draft picks that were supposed to be used in a superstar trade for Anthony Davis have instead brought in an exciting rookie class that could contribute right away. Team USA’s seventh place finish at the FIBA World Cup didn’t stop Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart from getting valuable experience on the world stage either.

However, a day before Boston kicks off their preseason against former Celtic Terry Rozier and the Charlotte Hornets, Ainge was careful to temper expectations for 2019-2020. After addressing last year’s chemistry issues, he said of this season’s squad: “this year, the question is: are we good enough?”

Ainge, like head coach Brad Stevens, stressed the importance of defense. The Celtics have had a top-10 defense three out of the last four seasons, but it’ll be tougher with such a revamped bench. “Can we make enough shots is always the key,” Ainge said. “But can we get the stops? Can we rebound the ball well enough? I think those are probably the biggest challenges,”

Ainge acknowledged the loss of do-everything center Al Horford. His absence will be greater felt than the departure of Kyrie Irving because of his ability to stretch the floor and defend multiple positions. However, Gordon Hayward, now two years removed from his devastating ankle injury, could be set for a comeback season with a bigger role and a confidence-building summer. And yet, Ainge pumped the breaks.

“I think right now, there’s been a lot of buzz around Gordon and his comeback and I’m worried that it’s getting a little out of hand,” Ainge said. “I think he’s Gordon. He’s back to being Gordon.”

Hayward won’t exactly replace Horford, but could lessen the impact. “Gordon is just a good basketball player. He can think. He can pass. He can shoot. He can create. He can defend. He can rebound. He’s a complete player and we need him to just be that.”

Hayward’s teammate, Robert Williams, was a little more enthusiastic:

Ainge was also high on returning veterans Williams and Daniel Theis. Because Theis is entering his third season in Boston, he’s got a “head start” on the field of centers that Ainge brought in, but he’s also seen development in the Timelord. “I think Robert has taken big strides from last year to where he’s at. I think his work this summer, you can see it already,” Ainge said.

The Celtics still have a 15th roster spot to fill. The loudest cheers at TD Garden were for Tacko Fall, but Ainge might have found a better rim protector in his driveway this weekend:

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