Speaking from the Shamrock Foundation Golf Tournament, head coach Brad Stevens gave fans a sneak peek into where the Celtics are coming out of the off-season and where they’re heading entering training camp.
Per Stevens, more or less, the team heads into camp healthy. Jayson Tatum has recovered from his ankle injury that cut short his Team USA campaign in China. Kemba Walker has taken it easy since the FIBA World Cup, but is ready to ramp things up next week. Romeo Langford, who missed the Vegas Summer League nursing a torn thumb ligament, has been “fine for a month.” Tacko Fall twisted his knee during two-on-two drills, but should be cleared to be a full participant by the end of the week.
Danny Ainge’s top priority this offseason? Keep Brad Stevens happy.— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) September 7, 2019
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What seemed to be on Stevens’ mind heading into the start of the 2019-2020 season was not so much the Celtics’ physical health, but their mental. The weight of great expectations combined with chemistry issues seemed to derail last year’s team, but Stevens is aware that every season has its challenges.
“There’s always going to be noise. I think no matter what the expectations are, whether you’re projected to be not very good or you’re projected to be really good, the bottom line is that there’s noise everywhere and that just increases year to year,” Stevens said. “To be honest, especially with the amount of attention, the amount of media, the amount of social media, and the amount of instant feedback.”
“So, I think that that’s one of the things that over time, everybody has to get used to, just being able to sift through what’s important, what’s not and trying to be as good as we can be together is all we’re trying to focus on.”
Heading into last year, there was no doubt that the players had put in work over the summer to boost their individual games. Tatum famously worked out with Kobe Bryant. Jaylen Brown spent time with Tracy McGrady. This summer has been different. There have been multiple reports that much of the team has spent time working out together in Boston, particularly Gordon Hayward who usually spends his time in San Diego. For Stevens, it’s not as important that they worked hard during the off-season; it’s that they worked hard together:
“My biggest thing is not about what they look like, it’s about what they’ve invested, what they’ve put in, you know, some sweat equity together and just to be ready to roll together,” Stevens said. “And there’s been a lot of guys that have worked really hard. That’s not different than other summers, and if they weren’t here, that’s okay too. They’ve been working hard wherever they’ve been. So I think at the end of the day, putting all those investments together and then kind of making sure the lens is focused ... It’s about we, it’s about being the best that we can be.”
Stevens’ acute awareness seems to be a direct product of last year’s drama. Many experts and pundits had slotted Boston as a contender. After a trip to The Eastern Conference Finals and LeBron James’ departure to the west, the Celtics were primed for an extended championship window. All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were returning from injury and Boston’s young core would have another year under their belt. An autopsy of their second round exit and subsequent departures by Irving and Al Horford revealed a team in turmoil. Now, it seems as if the franchise has hit the reset button.
“I said this the other day: my care is that we play with great effort and togetherness. That is it. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s what we want to be,” Stevens said of this fresh start. “All the technical basketball plays and system and all that stuff, that stuff will figure itself out. I feel like we’re at a good foundation there, but we gotta play like a Boston team should.”