Celtics Pride. Capital “C.” Capital “P.”
Every NBA franchise has their own culture, but there are few so ingrained with the identity of their city like Boston and their sports teams. There’s a blue collar grittiness that the greatest Celtics teams have always mirrored back to Boston and heading into the 2021-2022 season, this team will look to re-kindle that spirit.
After several seasons flirting with flashy max contract free agents and fielding starting fives chockful of All-Stars, President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens revamped the roster and more importantly, its image after the team finished .500 in his final year as head coach.
“We’re just trying to put together that Boston will appreciate,” Stevens said. “One that will play the right way with great team-ness and great toughness.”
The biggest difference between last season and this season is the departure of veterans Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, and Tristan Thompson and effectively replacing them with Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Al Horford, and Enes Kanter. On one hand, the Celtics are losing a bunch of offensive firepower with that starting back court now with the New York Knicks. On the other hand, the Celtics will look more like a team that will try and out wrestle you rather than outshoot you to win a game.
“Part of (‘relying on competitiveness’) is understanding what’s coming at you. To have the opportunity to bring in a couple of guys that have been in those battles at different places — in Enes’ case, back in Boston — is really important,” Stevens said.
“We have a number of young guys. If they earn their way up into great opportunities, then they earn their way up into great opportunities. That’s beautiful. That’s great. But we want to make sure that we’re giving ourselves the best chance to accentuate our best players and give ourselves multiple options and multiple avenues to be good as a team.”
The roster today is not unlike Stevens’ early teams that overachieved and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2017. There was an underdog quality to that group that could be replicated this season under new head coach Ime Udoka with a versatile mix of young stars, complementary vets, and developing players on their rookie contracts.
“We have lots of different directions we can go in with the versatility of our lineups and the players we’ve added,” Udoka said. “We can play big, small, faster, slower.”
The dynamic make up of the roster should give these Celtics many options to win games, but none of that will matter unless they truly embrace the heart of Boston and what Celtic Pride is all about. Media Day can often be a catch-all for sports cliches and pat answers about feeling healthy and being excited for the upcoming year.
“I’ve competed with these guys for the last six years,” Richardson said. “I’ve always circled them and I’ve always been excited because they’ve always had competitors, so I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Schroder talked about the roar of the Garden crowd when he was a visitor.
Enes Kanter spoke of delivering on a promise he made three years ago to raise Banner 18.
Jabari Parker who is on a non-guaranteed deal and in effect, the 15th man on the roster had probably the most heartfelt response to what it means to play in Boston. “Being a Celtic has actually fulfilled my childhood dream, just being a part of a historical organization. It gave me a sense of pride, Celtic Pride,” Parker told Celtics.com’s Amanda Pflugrad and Marc D’Amico. “Any opportunity is a great opportunity, but particularly this one just makes me a little more excited because I know I come from a long lineage of great basketball players and I just want to add on to that dynamic.”
Those are all endearing answers before embarking on season #76, but for the longest tenured Celtic, this year hits closer to, well, home. Marcus Smart signed a four-year extension this summer to stay in Boston through 2026.
Smart is neither the most versatile nor most skilled player on the Celtics. As he starts his seventh season in Boston and finally becoming the starting point guard, he knows all too well that beyond playing hard and doing whatever he can to win, the game is about loyalty and playing together.
On last year’s disappointing season, Smart still talked about the “love” he felt for that squad. When asked about his extension coupled with the new deals for Richardson and Robert Williams, he used words like “loyalty” and “sacrifice.” Because in the end, that’s what Celtics Pride is all about.