Training camp is truly underway. The first preseason game is in the books and the second is fast approaching. The Boston Celtics are seemingly reaping the benefits of their off-season overhaul, with the influx of talented veterans leading to a competitive atmosphere inside The Auerbach Center.
“Nobody is taking ****. Everybody out there battling. The altercation that happened at the end of the scrimmage between Smart and Grant, but we’re brothers, we would rather it happen here than happen on the court. I just like the competitive energy from everybody.” Williams said of his impressions from training camp so far.
Looking around the roster, the level of players has certainly increased. From swapping out Jeff Teague and Carsen Edwards for Dennis Schroder to adding Josh Richardson in place of Evan Fournier shoring up the wing defense. And, oh, we can’t forget about the return of Al Horford and his presence ensuring a certain level of professionalism.
The downside of a competitive atmosphere with a room full of high-level athletes is that on occasion, there are going to be disagreements.
The first was Jaylen Brown calling out Marcus Smart following the preseason win over the Orlando Magic. The second was between Smart again and Grant Williams.
“Grant flopping and ****, man. You know how it goes, man. We feel like he flopped, he thinks he didn’t flop. Like I said, it’s better to get that out now instead of when we’re playing against other people. We’re brothers, it happens every day, damn near,” a chuckling Robert Williams explained.
In fairness, you would rather the players air out their grievances with one another instead of sitting on their feelings and allowing it to affect their play and/or relationship once the trials and tribulations of the regular season begin.
For a team that was often labeled soft last season, the new mindset emitting out of training camp seems to be one of toughness and togetherness. In part, the change in mentality can be credited to the Celtics veteran additions, but there must also be credit given to both the coaching staff and front office. as both will be playing their part in creating a new ethos for the team heading into the season.
“The competitive spirit is great, for sure. I kinda like it when it gets chippy like that. For my whole life, I’ve known that the guys you get in a fight with, you usually come out on the other end closer. I think it’s good for us, good for our growth,” Josh Richardson continued. “It’s like every day, every time we start to scrimmage, every time we do something live, everybody is trying to kill each other. Everybody is real physical, they’re talking **** to each other. The way I’m cut, the way a lot of these guys are cut, I can tell that’s good for us because it keeps you engaged in practice.”
It was abundantly obvious that the Celtics needed additional fire off the bench last season, as the team continually relied on first and second-year players, which led to their naivety being exploited time and again. Hearing Richardson speak about how the team is trying to kill each other in every scrimmage is an encouraging sign, because when the real basketball begins later this month, their opponents won’t be aiming to make friends.
There’s a vibe to this team, a vibe that hasn’t been felt since the early Brad Stevens years. A feeling of closeness and a willingness to fight and claw for each other, one of a developing brotherhood, and we all remember how those teams performed. The only difference is this roster is far more superior from both a talent and depth perspective.
“As a team, you can tell when you’re on a team where guys genuinely want to grow and be better for each other. So far, my experience has been good with these guys. The group text is good. The chemistry is good. Going forward, I hope it keeps getting better,” Richardson explained after the team went out for a group meal on Wednesday night, even though he was unable to make it.
Robert Williams also echoed this sentiment, telling the media, “hearing me speak, will let my teammates know that a lot of them can speak up. All voices are heard, and we respect all decisions around here, and you gotta accept it.”
Looking at the roster top to bottom, one thing instantly sticks out: most of these players have been on successful teams during their career, and they understand what it takes to win at this level. After a baptism of fire for some of the Celtics' younger contingent over the last season or two, having an environment where you can go at each other in a safe but tough environment should help them develop at a faster rate.
Think of it like sparring: you can only go light for so long, but until you know what it’s like to take a hit and fight off the back-foot, you’re operating under a false sense of security. It’s far better to embrace that feeling with your own teammates instead of under the shining lights of an NBA stadium and for the whole world to see.
The Celtics will face off against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday evening, where we can get another look at how these training camp battles are helping shape this year's roster.