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.
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