INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- It’s hard to believe the Celtics are just hours away from their first regular-season game after having been together for less than a month.
The quick turnaround isn't all that different than it is for the other 29 teams in the NBA. But the Celtics, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season, are returning only four players -- and just one starter -- from last year.
Training camp was indeed a crash course called Getting to Know My Teammates 101.
But listening to the players, and coach Brad Stevens, it’s clear there will be lessons learned all season long.
“We have a good feel about how things can look, in the preseason,” said Al Horford. “But it is the preseason. Now it all starts. And right away we face a tough test (in the Cavaliers). But yeah, we’ll start learning even more. We’ve already learned a good amount, but even more when Tuesday rolls around.”
That's when the Celtics kick off the regular season at Cleveland, which will once again be the favorite to advance to the NBA Finals.
Not too far behind (right behind them, by most accounts) are the Celts, whose season ended in the Conference finals a year ago in a five-game loss to the Cavs.
And the Boston players collectively feel that, despite the short amount of time together, they’ve developed a good sense of chemistry and understanding of how to play effectively with one another.
Having said that, they also understand that there’s still plenty of room to grow.
“I don’t expect it to be perfect by any means at all,” said Gordon Hayward. “We’ll definitely have some ups and downs this season. Like I said, one thing is we’ll be able to compete every night. We’ll be able to play together. Those things should stay the same.”
In many respects, the Cavaliers are going through a similar challenge this season. They've added Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder -- and, when he recovers from his hip injury, Isaiah Thomas -- to a core group that’s led by LeBron James.
While the increase in talent is undeniable, it’ll take some time before they too develop the kind of on-the-court cohesiveness that comes with time.
“It’s gonna take time,” Rose said. “It’s going to be a process for everybody to learn their roles, learn everybody’s tendencies, and not think while they’re out there.”
And while there’s a heightened level of uncertainty as to how things will play out with the Celtics this season, Stevens embraces the unknown.
“I think we're going to be learning about ourselves through the middle of the season,” Stevens said. “I think you do that with every team, but I think that's especially the case now. But this is, I've said this before, like, the first week, the first 10 days, the first few weeks, we have such great and unique challenges that it's gonna be really good for this team regardless."
Stevens added: “Because, to have to go into Cleveland with that level of intensity, with that level of attention, distraction, etc., is great. It's great to experience that in game one. A tremendous learning experience for our group. So, we're preparing to play as well as we can. And we know that they're really, really good. But this is, I'm looking forward to it because I want to find out where we are.”
Hayward added, “It’s a fun first game to start the year. Regardless of what happens, we’ll have some improving to do and things to get better at.”