Celtics' biggest offseason acquisition might just be positivity

Celtics' biggest offseason acquisition might just be positivity

BOSTON — With only rare exceptions — like the Kris Humphries/MarShon Brooks/Keith Bogans hostage situation of 2013 — NBA player introductions tend to be moments of unbridled joy and optimism. And why not? Most of the time players at the podium have just inked big-money deals and they’ve got no shortage of reasons to smile.

But there was no denying the overly cheerful vibe inside Red’s House on Wednesday afternoon when the Boston Celtics introduced offseason acquisitions Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter at a joint press conference. Flanked by Celtics brass, including coach Brad Stevens, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca, and team president Rich Gotham, the newest Celtics smiled wide for the 22 cameras (slow summer news week, huh?) set up for the festivities and said all the right things.

And, after a season that Marcus Morris flat out admitted wasn’t fun as it was happening, the Celtics seemed to savor the, ahem, changing of the guard.

Which is why there was muffled smiles across the podium as Kanter was asked about his decision to wear No. 11 in Boston. After noting how he had previously worn those digits in Oklahoma City, Kanter cracked, "I wanted to be the reason nobody else did.”

Beside Kanter, Ainge stifled his laughter as quick as he could but the joke — a sendup of Irving’s Nike commercial in which he made the same claim while footage of him playing 1-on-1 with his father beneath the banners inside TD Garden — drew hearty LOLs from those assembled.

Listen, the 2019-20 Celtics, as the roster stands right now, do not have the high ceiling that last year’s squad did. They also don’t have the weighty burden of expectations strapped to their back either. What they do have is an intriguing blend of talent and potential that, with the right tweaks along the way, could muscle their way into the mix in a rather wide open Eastern Conference.

And maybe that makes it just a little bit easier to smile and embrace the latest pivot.

"It's been a fun summer, actually,” said Ainge, who repeatedly noted how Walker and Kanter both wanted to be in Boston, with both players sacrificing bigger paydays to sign here this summer. "The draft was fun and the summer league was fun. It's a good group of guys. We've had more people working out of our facility this summer than ever before. 

"I think a lot of that started when Gordon [Hayward] decided to stay here instead of going out west. He stayed put and worked. We have a lot of coaches around and it just seems like it's carried over. We have six or seven guys working out here almost everyday.”

Ainge, who had boldly declared on draft night that players were “dying” to be in Boston, opened Wednesday’s festivities by noting that, in post-draft planning, the Celtics had identified Walker and Kanter as “Plan A.” Yes, it’s a bit of semantics. The original Plan A was almost assuredly to bring back Irving and Horford and try to land Anthony Davis via trade. But, once those doors started to close, the Celtics embraced a pivot to replacing their departing stars as best they could with unexpected cap space.

The Celtics knew they had all but secured Walker when he arrived for the start of free agency on June 30. Ainge noted how he picked up Walker at the Four Seasons that night and gave him his iPhone and told him to phone Kanter with a recruiting pitch. It worked.

Boston is hopeful that the slight dropoff in overall talent going from Irving to Walker can be negated by Walker’s positive attitude and leadership abilities. Kanter will be hard pressed to replace the all-around impact of Horford, but the Celtics are crossing their fingers that the development of younger players — and a healthier Hayward — can offset what they lost in departures.

Even Walker wasn’t about to suggest the Celtics would be better next season. But he did admit they’d be different — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

"It’s different. I don’t know if we’re going to be better, I can’t tell the future, but we have a really good team, a bunch of young guys who are very talented who I’m looking forward to playing with,” said Walker. “Do I think we can be good? Yeah. I do. I think I’ll be a huge part of that, as well as to grow the young guys, we need those guys to step up and be huge for the team, as well as Gordon. We want Gordon to have a great year as well, which I think he will because he’s been working. That’s what it takes to succeed in this league. 

"So yeah, I’m excited, hopefully it’s great things to come.”

After Walker talked to reporters in a side session following his formal introduction, Kanter bombed in with a Celtics microphone in hand and asked how much Walker was going to pass to him this season.

“Zero,” quipped Walker. “Just playing. You know I got you.”

It’s easy to overrate chemistry at these things. Two years ago, Celtics fans swooned when Irving told Hayward, “It’s about to be crazy, G.” Last season was the wrong kind of crazy.

There are no guarantees next season, either. There is always the chance that Walker struggles under the heft of a new deal, that Hayward never finds his old form, that the young core never makes strides. But, per league policy, hope summers eternal in the NBA. And it was nothing but smiles from the Celtics on Wednesday.

After a season in which a dark cloud hovered above from start to finish, Ainge seems eager to simply enjoy the ride again.

“There's a lot for everybody to learn from last year's experience,” said Ainge. "I think that it was a team that was — the expectations were probably too high I thought all along. I always say to [reporters] every year that you don't win on paper, you win on the court. 

"Obviously, talent wins but we have a lot of talent on this team and there is a lot to figure out between now and the beginning of the season, let alone after the beginning of the season to the middle of the season. I'm excited about the spirit and the camaraderie that our guys seem to have and the atmosphere that exists in our organization right now seems very positive.”

With all due respect to Kanter and Walker, maybe positivity was the biggest offseason acquisition of all for these Celtics.

Why Kemba chose to wear #8 with Celtics>>>>>

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Enes Kanter shows big support for 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall in latest tweet

Enes Kanter shows big support for 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall in latest tweet

Enes Kanter seems to be a fan of Boston Celtics' 7-foot-7 rookie Tacko Fall.

Kanter posted a video to Twitter of Fall practicing at Auerbach Center, and he took time to praise Fall's efforts on Twitter.

The Celtics' signed Kanter to a two-year $10 million deal back in July, while Fall entered Boston's system as an undrafted free agent but he impressed in the Las Vegas Summer League. Kanter is the replacement for Al Horford, who left the Celtics over the summer for the Philadelphia 76ers.

The two should be a great duo for the Celtics, as both have the height and skill to be something special this coming season.

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Record predictions for the 2019-20 campaign

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Record predictions for the 2019-20 campaign

Entering training camp a year ago, expectations were sky-high for the Celtics. Most pundits considered them the team to beat in the East. Vegas fancied Boston as a 59-win team, the second-highest win total behind only Golden State. And a Finals matchup between those two teams was far from a pipe dream.

Fast forward a year and expectations have been tempered. The Celtics lost a pair of All-Stars this summer in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford and, despite signing another in Kemba Walker, the team finds itself widely considered a Tier 2 team in the East behind projection darlings Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

So what happens this year? Do the Celtics go back to being the sort of overachievers that have defined Brad Stevens’ coaching career? Will a younger roster struggle to simply meet even the lowered expectations of this season?

To wrap up Week 1 of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our NBC Sports Boston panel to look into their crystal balls and predict not only Boston’s final win-loss record but how far they’d advance in the playoffs.

The  Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook projects Boston at 49.5 wins this season. The Bucks (58) and Sixers (55) top the Westgate projections and the next five teams all reside in the west. 

The Celtics went 49-33 last season, settling for the fourth seed in the East. They swept the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers in Round 1 but bowed to the top-seeded Bucks in five games in Round 2.

When you consider that Westgate’s four lowest win totals reside in the East (Knicks, Wizards, Cavaliers, Hornets) and seven East teams sit below 40 wins, it feels like the Celtics should reasonably win 50+ games despite the roster changes.

So we’ll put the Celtics at 52 wins and a spot in the East semifinals. That seeding would likely mean a second-round matchup jousting with either Giannis’ Bucks or Embiid’s Sixers and Boston’s frontcourt development might dictate just how competitive those series could be. Remember, too, Stevens tends to produce his best magic when you least expect it.

The irony, of course, is that the Celtics could win 49 games this season and get bounced in Round 2 again but if they develop chemistry and are more enjoyable to watch then last year’s gang, then Celtics fans will be far more OK with that script playing out a second time — well, so long as players make the sort of strides that suggest more is possible in the coming years.

Abby Chin: 50-32 Eastern Conference Finals

I think purely based on better chemistry and grit, this team will improve on last year’s win total. And, I’ll bank on some luck in the playoff bracket. Maybe with injuries, or regular season Al Horford, Philly and Milwaukee fall to the 2 and 3 seed so the Celtics could avoid them in the first couple rounds.


A. Sherrod Blakely: 50-32, East Finals

I'm gonna keep the cookies on the bottom shelf with this one. They are a better team (team not individuals) than they're going to get credit for, and they have a roster that's full of talent with a huge chip on their shoulders from the coach on down. This group will play harder, smarter and win a lot of games they probably shouldn't and by doing so, keep Celtics fans extremely happy all season.

Max Lederman: 51-31, lose in 2nd round

Before last season the Celtics have always overachieved under Brad Stevens. I expect a return to that with lowered expectations this season. The Celtics also had their worst record vs winning teams last year since Brad's 2nd season. They should put up a better fight this season.

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