There’s that scene in the movie where the main character stares intently into a mirror, usually one in some dingy gas station bathroom with a pair of scissors or razor in their hand and complete resolution on their face. There may be hints of fear or denial, anger or resentment, but this is happening and it’s happening right now.
This is the moment when everything changes.
It’s less about transformation than it is shedding your skin. It’s not about trying to be someone else. There’s acknowledgement of the past, but only as reference point to now. The past is prologue. This is rebirth. Rebuilt. A renaissance. And this is what it looks like:
Without much fanfare, Jaylen Brown cut his hair. His trademark flat top that he’s worn for the last three years is gone. He had it long before he was even a Celtic. On IG Live, he wrote that, “I ain’t felt my head since I was about 16.”
Brown will turn 23 in his fourth season in the NBA. His birthday falls a day after Boston opens the season in Philadelphia against a 76ers team headlined by Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Both young superstars represent realized potential, a level that Brown has yet to achieve in terms of perception and financial stability. It’s a contract year for Brown and with the Celtics front office unlikely to offer him an extension, he’ll be playing for his future.
Unlike Brown, some players are less motivated by the future and more by the past and understandably so. In a blog post last week entitled Back Like We Never Left, Gordon Hayward wrote, “I want to get this season going for two big reasons. First and foremost is the way that last season ended, with all the expectations we didn’t meet. That didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth, and that has driven me all summer.
On top of that, it kind of felt like my game had slowly progressed throughout the year. So having a full summer, being able to get ready for the season and get it going, it makes me feel excited.”
Whether he succeeds or fails, this year will largely be seen through the prism of his comeback. It’s a narrative that has frankly haunted Hayward as he enters the final guaranteed year of his max contract. Every good game he has will be a reminder of how good he was in Utah and the missed opportunity that he could have been the missing link over the last two seasons. Every bad game will be excused as a possible ripple effect--mental or physical--of his broken ankle two years ago. Hayward may have put that fateful night in Cleveland behind him, but history rarely forgets.
For Kemba Walker, the timing is now. His four-year max contract brackets what will be the heart of his prime. At 29-years-old, his eight years in Charlotte have already included the last three as an All-Star and a third team All-NBA for last season. He ranks as the #17 and #20 best player in ESPN and Sports Illustrated’s Player Rankings respectively heading into 2019-2020. But for all of Walker’s accolades, his time with the Hornets produced only two playoff runs that ended in the first round.
After signing with the Celtics, Walker wrote in the Players’ Tribune:
I’m a winner. I’ve always been a winner. It’s who I am — or at least who I strive to be — anytime I step foot on the court. And when I think about my future with this team, and how I’m now going to be playing for the Celtics….. I mean, that’s why I feel like it’s a match made in heaven. I want to win here, badly — and I’m excited to prove myself as that type of player in this league. I want to elevate myself into that Boston winning tradition. I want to get this team back on top.
Below that paragraph was a photo of TD Garden with all seventeen banners hanging from the rafters. Kemba recognizes the moment he’s in and in his free agency, chose Boston as the best place to try and win a championship.
Like Walker, that’s the time zone I’m living in this season. Since Brad Stevens’ arrival, the perception of the Celtics have wavered between celebrating a trade with the Nets in 2014 and planning for the future with all the fruits it bore. Last season was supposed to be the crossing of those timelines. In a way, it was. Rather than ending with a trade for Anthony Davis or duck boats in June, 2018-2019 and the off-season that followed instead made it very clear that this is the roster for the foreseeable future. In that spirit, here’s my sincere mission statement for the upcoming season:
I promise to not compare any player to Al Horford. I’ll miss Horford. He’s a great player and was the perfect Celtic, but he’s gone. Any hope that the collection of centers that Boston has brought in and retained this summer will replace Big Al should be quashed early.
I promise to never utter Kyrie Irving’s name again. It’s not because I feel any ill will towards him or bitterness about his departure. Like Horford, he’s gone, too. At the Nets’ Media Day, Irving attempted to explain his time with and exit from the Celtics, citing the death of his grandfather and a bout with depression as factors to his uncharacteristic behavior. That’s enough for me. I won’t mention Walker in the same breath as Kyrie either. If I learned anything from Irving, it’s that comparison is truly the thief of joy.
I promise to not mention the Memphis pick or hypothesize about some blockbuster trade. This is the team. I like it and they seem to like each other and let’s go from there. While Danny Ainge has seemed to get the best out of every trade and draft over the last five years, too many times have we seen the roster gutted of its heart and soul. Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo are now Lakers. I had to Google where Jae Crowder was playing now. I understand that the NBA has turned into a merry-go-round and for many, the transactions are more fun than the actual games.
Well, I’m done with that. Give me twenty minutes a night of Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards. Put the Jays on the same path and let’s raise #7 and #0 to the rafters together. It’s so easy to root for Enes Kanter off the court; I can’t wait to see him in green on the court.
Welcome to Media Day.