Celtics

Blakely: How rare is it for a conference finalist to have four returnees?

Blakely: How rare is it for a conference finalist to have four returnees?

BOSTON – One by one, we have seen the Boston Celtics, just three wins away from a trip to the NBA Finals, dismantled before our very eyes.

Just like the Celtics felt in 2013 that they had gone as far as they could with that core group, a similar sentiment was felt this offseason.

Boston returns just four players from a team that had the best record in the East (I know Cleveland rested players, but, hey, I didn’t see Toronto or Milwaukee or any other team step up and take hold of the top spot, either).

It’s not unusual to see teams try to shake things up after a deep playoff run. But a near-complete overhaul?

Looking back at teams that have advanced to their respective conference final, no team in the last decade has gutted their roster to the extent that we have seen the Celtics do this offseason. 

Now, mind you, most of the changes that the Celtics have made for the most part are seen as upgrades.

You lose Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko but in come Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris, whose defensive rating as a tandem is among the best in the NBA.

Fans will certainly miss Jae Crowder’s do-it-all defense and Isaiah Thomas’ scoring. But Crowder’s departure opens up more minutes for Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum. And the gap left by Thomas’ departure will be filled by Kyrie Irving, a 25-year-old Olympic gold medalist who has already won an NBA title and has been named to the Eastern Conference’s All-Star team four times.

And let’s not forget the Celtics also landed Gordon Hayward, who left Utah -- and about $40 million on the table -- to reunite with his college coach, Brad Stevens, here in Boston. 

Still, it’s a bit startling to see how unusual the Celtics and their overwhelming desire to look and play differently, compares to other teams after coming so close to getting to the Finals. 

Since the 2008 playoffs (Boston won it all that year, remember?), only 32.5 percent of the teams (13 out of 40) that advanced to their respective Conference final returned a single-digit total of players the following season. 

And then there’s the 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, which knocked off the Miami Heat in five games, at the opposite end of that spectrum. Following their title season, they returned a whopping 14 players.

And from among those teams that have advanced to the Finals in the last decade, the Spurs (5) are the only club to get to their respective Conference final more than Boston (4).

While there have been a decent number of teams to have rosters with single-digit returnees the following season, this Celtics team is very much in a class unto itself.

In fact, the closest team to returning so few players from a team that advanced to the NBA’s equivalent of the Final Four was the Orlando Magic after they advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

The following season, they returned just seven players from the previous team.

To endure such a major roster reconstruction raises lots of questions about chemistry. Specifically, how long will it take to develop?

In past years, teams would meander their way through a long and oftentimes drawn out preseason. That won’t be the case this year, not with the league allowing for more practice time for teams, which has sliced Boston’s preseason schedule down to just four games.

Timing and continuity will have to be developed in practice, which could make for some not-so-stellar play early in the season as different combinations are used to figure out which ones work best against competition, without necessarily the benefit of seven or eight preseason games.

But as much as the chemistry at first may be an issue, Boston’s overall upgrade in talent isn’t in question.

They now have a Big Three of Irving, Hayward and Al Horford, who collectively have 11 All-Star appearances to their credit. The team’s depth is green, but Boston has veterans like Marcus Smart coming back along with veteran newcomers Baynes and Morris to add to a young mix of talented up-and-comers like Brown and Tatum.

While Boston dismantling its roster may seem jarring, Celtics Nation has to be mindful that the changes are geared toward doing one thing and one thing only: building a squad that can put the Green Team on a faster track to competing for Banner 18.

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Gordon Hayward will start traveling with Celtics in March

Gordon Hayward will start traveling with Celtics in March

LOS ANGELES – The Boston Celtics have made a point of trying to change up Gordon Hayward’s rehabilitation routine as to avoid the boredom that’s often associated with the recovery process from a long-term injury such as his.

How about a few days in Southern California?

Hayward is with the team here in Los Angeles, and will stay behind for a few days afterward according to head coach Brad Stevens.

“One of the things we wanted to do was change his environment,” said Stevens who added that Hayward may begin traveling with the team in March. “So, he’s going to be here for these two games, and he will stay here in Southern California for a week to 10 days with a couple of our staff and re-join us in Boston.”

The key to him re-joining the team for road games hinges on whether he can do is rehabilitation work without the need for an ultra-gravity (Ultra-G) machine which he has been using.

Stevens later explained why the team felt the need to try and switch up Hayward’s regimen.

“People that have been through this, you know, long process ... One of the things about us, we’re jumping on a plane every four or five days,” said Stevens who added that Hayward still has “a long way to go” before returning to play in an actual game. “And he’s used to that and he has been in the same routine doing the same thing for three or four months without that. So, we just wanted to have him here for a couple games while we’re out West and for a few days later, leave him out here.”

Al Horford is among the Celtics eager to have Hayward join the team on road games, even if his timeline for returning to action is still targeted for next season.

“We’re happy, anytime, for Gordon to be around us,” Horford said. “For him, it’s his process to getting back to where he needs to be. Obviously, we’re respectful of that. But any chance that he gets around us, it’s good to share with him. He’s still a part of this. That’s the cool thing about it.”

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Al Horford joins Kyrie Irving at the all-star game, selected as reserve

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Al Horford joins Kyrie Irving at the all-star game, selected as reserve

LOS ANGELES – Kyrie Irving won’t be all by his lonesome during all-star weekend next month, with teammate Al Horford being selected as an all-star reserve.

For Horford, this will be his fifth all-star selection but first as a member of the Boston Celtics after joining the team in 2016.

Horford’s play, particularly on defense, has been instrumental to the Celtics (34-13) having the best record in the Eastern Conference, and third overall in the NBA.

This season, he has averaged 13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting a career-best 43 percent from 3-point range.

Horford’s numbers don’t always speak to his impact on teams and more important, winning games.

“He’s a big part of our team in order for us to be number one in the East and hopefully sustain that spot,” Irving said earlier today. “We know how valuable he is. The Celtics organization, our team, everybody. He definitely has a case; he’s got my vote.”

Horford is grateful and appreciative of being named an all-star.

But his focus, as you might expect, is on what he views as a much more significant prize – a victory tonight which would snap Boston’s season-long losing streak which stands at three straight.

Horford is more concerned about the Celtics setting the tone defensively tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“That has to be our mindset,” he said. “And sticking together. So this is a great time for us to make sure we’re together and we do it as a group.”

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