Celtics

Countdown to Celtics Camp: What is the most intriguing camp storyline?

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: What is the most intriguing camp storyline?

The Boston Celtics will huddle two weeks from today for Media Day and the unofficial start of the 2019-20 season. The next day, they’ll launch into two-a-day sessions and the start of training camp at the Auerbach Center. Basketball is just about back.

Not that it ever left. The NBA experienced maybe its wildest summer in league history as stars relocated all over the map. The late summer/early fall doldrums were filled by the FIBA World Cup and Team USA’s roster featured four of Boston’s primary rotation players, including newly signed All-Star Kemba Walker.

Still, when camp opens for the Celtics, it’ll have been nearly five months since their head-slapping 2018-19 campaign ended unceremoniously with the Milwaukee Bucks rattling off four straight wins in the conference semifinals. A lot has changed with the departures of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris. The Celtics are hoping that the “Plan A” additions of Walker and Enes Kanter can help them remain competitive in a wide-open East.

But there’s no shortage of questions to be answered about this team.

So today we’re unveiling our Countdown to Camp series, a two-week march to Media Day in which some of NBC Sports Boston’s top hoops voices will join me in trying to set the table for the new season.

Today’s topic: What will be the most intriguing storyline at training camp?

This writer’s choice: How does Gordon Hayward look after a summer of working out in Boston, and what sort of expectations will emerge as he prepares for a season now two years removed from that gruesome ankle injury in Cleveland.

Maybe it’s because much of Boston’s other key players have been on an international stage for the past month while Hayward has been grinding away back home that makes Hayward’s progress so intriguing. Every time a Celtics teammate, coach, or front-office figure has talked to reporters this offseason, the conversation has always included some form of gushing about Hayward and the upcoming season.

Heck, that hype train left the station back in early June when, just a few weeks removed from Boston’s playoff exit, Danny Ainge detailed Hayward’s initial workout schedule and how he was “anticipating great things from Gordon this season.” 

Along the way, we learned Hayward was selling his San Diego residence an had spent nearly his entire summer in Boston working out with the coaches and trainers at the team’s facility. Just last week, Celtics coach Brad Stevens further elevated the Hayward intrigue level by saying that Hayward has put himself in position for a “great” season with his offseason workouts while discussing Hayward’s summer on Jeff Goodman’s podcast.

Later in this series, we’ll get into what exactly type of season Hayward might have and how his role might change now after the departure of the two All-Stars he used to share the locker room with. Boston’s roster got incredibly young this offseason and it’s clear that 29-year-olds Walker and Hayward will be in the leadership spotlight.

But the start of camp will allow us to set our expectations gauge for Hayward. He had some very encouraging moments at the end of the 2018-19 season, particularly in Boston’s first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers. Alas, his struggles against Milwaukee confirmed that he was still searching for his pre-injury consistency and it tempered expectations entering the offseason.

In a way, it feels like some have forgotten just how good Hayward was before the injury and how his all-around talents made him a top-25-caliber player in the league. Hayward might never quite get back to that level but those glimpses at the end of last season suggest he can really impact winning. 

A new-look roster, and restored confidence, might give him a chance to accentuate his talents again this season. The Celtics are loaded with wing depth and must figure out how all those versatile pieces fit together but if Hayward gets back to the player he was, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown make leaps, that would be Boston’s most direct path to being a true contender.

So if we get a glimpse of 5-on-5 work to close out one of the team’s early sessions of camp, these eyes will be directly on Hayward.

Here’s what others in our panel will be keeping an eye on:

Abby Chin: The adjustment of — and to — Kemba Walker

This covers multiple angles, not the least of which, I assume, will be an improved vibe in the locker room. There’s a big adjustment for Walker with a new team, new environment, and leaving the only NBA home he’s ever known. That can’t be understated. 

Al Horford said it took him the better part of a year to really get comfortable after he made the move from Atlanta, and that surprised him. It’s all-encompassing for every area of your life: new house, new facility, new coaching staff and trainers. Even just figuring out the best way to get to TD Garden to avoid traffic. Everything is different. 

And, of course, the adjustment on the court for Walker, and for his new teammates in playing with Walker. This is the most talented group of guys Walker has ever played alongside during an NBA season. How does he balance his 1-on-1, pick-and-roll heavy style with getting others involved? Irving never really figured that out. How effectively is Walker able to pick his spots? His teammates have to adjust to a new floor general as well. A few got a head start with Team USA but it’s still going to take time to gel.

Sherrod Blakely: The wing position

Jaylen Brown is in a contract year. Jayson Tatum will look to take a significant leap forward.  Gordon Hayward's looking to get back to the player he was prior to coming to Boston. Keeping all three happy this year? Good luck with that Brad Stevens.

 

Max Lederman: How will Robert Williams look?

TimeLord's per-36 stats were historic last season. Can he come close to that production with extended run? Can he be a playable rotation big for the Celtics to start the season, or will he need more time to develop? Basically I want to know if he can play — and not be a net negative — on opening night versus the Joel Embiid/Al Horford frontline of the 76ers.

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Celtics Talk Podcast: Isaiah Thomas recalls ending Warriors' home streak, ready for another comeback

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Celtics Talk Podcast: Isaiah Thomas recalls ending Warriors' home streak, ready for another comeback

In the latest edition of the Celtics Talk Podcast, Isaiah Thomas looks back at one of his signature victories as the C's point guard when Boston came into Oracle Arena, where the Golden State Warriors have won 54 in a row, and upset the defending NBA champions.

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It happened four years ago, April 1, 2016, and Thomas vividly recalled a victory that put Brad Stevens' up-and-coming Celtics, who would go on to win 48 games and reach the Eastern Conference Finals that season, on the map.

We were treating it like a must-win, knowing everything that was at stake for the Warriors, Thomas told A. Sherrod Blakely. "That year … they were unstoppable. We knew how hard it was to win in Golden State because of how great their fan base is. Not only that, how great a team they were. We went in like it was a must-win.

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Thomas said that win made the league take notice of not only the Celtics, but himself as well. 

Nobody thought we would be what we were. Nobody thought I would be what I was...Everybody on that team showed a lot of people that we were good enough to be a really good team and individually, we had really good players that to this day are showing what they're capable of doing.

Injuries have kept Thomas, now 31, from reaching the level he enjoyed with the Celtics and he's again looking for a team after he was waived by the Los Angeles Clippers after being dealt there by the Washington Wizards at the trade deadline. Still, his signature confidence hasn't waned. 

I got a lot left in the tank. I know what I can do. I'm never going to sugar coat it. I'm one of the best players in the world if given the opportunity.

And could that come in again in Boston next season?

You never know," he told Blakely. "If given the opportunity, I'd love to come back. I would love to be able to be a part of what the Celtics got going on. Just be able to help. Not come in with any expectations.

Blakely also catches up with ex-Celtics forward Jared Sullinger, who was a part of that 2015-16 team and had a big night in that win over the Warriors (20 points, 12 rebounds). Listen and subscribe to the Celtics Talk Podcast and view it on YouTube:

The Enes Kanter Show: Tacko Fall talks quarantine life, Celtics' Zoom conferences

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The Enes Kanter Show: Tacko Fall talks quarantine life, Celtics' Zoom conferences

The Boston Celtics, just like the rest of us, are still adjusting to a new lifestyle during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the NBA season indefinitely on hold, players have had to find new ways to stay busy and connect with their teammates. In the latest episode of "The Enes Kanter Show," Kanter and Chris Forsberg are joined by Celtics phenom Tacko Fall as the two discuss life in quarantine.

"I've been in the house since everything started," Fall said. "It's boring. Just playing video games all day. That's about it."

What video game has Tacko been playing?

"Call Of Duty," he answered. "[Daniel Theis] is in most nights, Semi [Ojeleye] sometimes, and Grant [Williams]."

According to Tacko, Ojeleye is undoubtedly the best CoD player of the bunch.

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When the C's aren't connecting with one another via video games, they're hopping on Zoom conferences to chat with coach Brad Stevens. Kanter notes the conference calls often are educational and include discussions of life off the court.

Fall enjoys the Zoom conferences because it keeps him in touch with his teammates when he's stuck at home alone, and they provide him with some much-needed entertainment.

“I love these Zoom conferences,” Fall said. "First of all, its good to see everyone’s face because you’re in the house all day — especially right now, I’m by myself. There’s nobody else in here. So definitely miss the guys, so it’s always good to see their faces.

“And just [because of] the different personalities we have, I feel like on the phone since there is nobody around and it’s just virtual, sometimes people tend to be a tad bit goofier. Especially like Grant [Williams] and some of the rookies, and it’s just a great atmosphere.”

Also discussed on the show was the making of Kanter's marshmallow/treadmill TikTok video and the teammates Kanter and Fall would most/least like to quarantine with.

You can listen to the new episode of The Enes Kanter Show on YouTube or your favorite podcasting app.