Celtics

Kemba Walker's first challenge in Boston: Leading this Celtics team back on track

Kemba Walker's first challenge in Boston: Leading this Celtics team back on track

The Kemba Walker Era begins, in earnest, on Wednesday afternoon when the Celtics formally introduce their latest maximum-contract signing at the Auerbach Center.

Walker won’t inherit quite the same burden of expectations that some of Boston’s previous big-ticket splurges did upon their arrival. When Al Horford and Gordon Hayward signed on — the latter’s entry coupled with the offseason acquisition of Kyrie Irving — the Celtics’ ceiling raised a bit and the team was perceived closer to title contention.

Walker arrives to a somewhat flawed roster, one that still doesn’t feel quite set even after a busy summer. There are question marks in the frontcourt with the departure of Horford, Aron Baynes, and Marcus Morris, and the team’s younger players must reassert themselves.

The more immediate pressure on Walker is leadership. As the Celtics attempt to wash the bitter taste of last season out of their mouths, Walker must prove he is the palette cleanser. And while those that have spent time around Walker have gushed about his by-example leadership, his biggest task might essentially be doing what Irving couldn’t last season: Getting the best out of those around him.

Walker is no stranger to being the face of a franchise. That’s been his role the better part of the past eight seasons in Charlotte. In Boston, the three-time All-Star will face a harsher spotlight, but one that will also bathe him in affection if he is to get the most out of his new teammates.

By all accounts, Walker is eager for the challenge. In the goodbye he penned to Charlotte, he was emphatic about a desire to show that he is a winner. In an arena with 17 banners, there’s always a pressure to compete — regardless of the varying heft of expectations — and the quickest path to endearment is simply winning.

What Walker says at Wednesday’s introduction will set the tone for his tenure as the new face of the franchise. That’s a spotlight he should be able and willing to share if Hayward reverts to his old form, or if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown make the leaps that many have been waiting for. Walker can expedite all of that, both with his play and his words.

Jim Calhoun, Walker’s college coach at the University of Connecticut, was emphatic that Walker would make his teammates better. After the Celtics emerged as frontrunners for Walker last month, Calhoun gushed about the way he could lead.

"I think the big thing is that he makes Tatum, he makes Brown, he helps Gordon Hayward come back. He makes a lot of terrific players be exceptional players,” said Calhoun. "There are very few guys you're going to get in basketball -- not only are they really good, but they make others better both psychologically, winning-wise … He's a special talent who can make other players better.”

Added Calhoun: "He brings special things to his teammates. Trust me, I was always amazed at how much his teammates loved him and followed him.”

Walker will be quizzed Wednesday about his leadership. He’ll be asked for his opinions on his new teammates. There is no reason to think he won’t say all the right things and, soon, he’ll get the chance to prove he means them.

A year ago, Celtics fans were clamoring for nothing short of a trip to the Finals. Now, it feels like most would sacrifice some wins for a spike in likability. Expectations can surge again if the Celtics show potential on the court but, right now, Celtics fans yearn for a team they can simply wrap their arms around (hence the lovefest that enveloped the spunky summer league squad in Vegas).

Walker can start the healing process from last season on Wednesday. After two stars exited, he can emphasize his desire to be here. He can express excitement about the potential of this group, while noting all the things he plans to do to help the Celtics reach it.

Walker formally receives the leadership baton on Wednesday and he needs to be ready to run with it.

 

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Celtics' Marcus Smart (ankle) probable for Wednesday game vs. Clippers

Celtics' Marcus Smart (ankle) probable for Wednesday game vs. Clippers

Marcus Smart is listed as probable for the Celtics' Wednesday night game in against the Clippers in Los Angeles after the guard had to leave the Monday night win in Phoenix with a scary-looking ankle sprain. 

Smart vowed after the game Monday that he would play against the Clippers even after being helped off the court when he was injured in the fourth quarter.

Smart appeared to be moving well on the ankle Tuesday, according to Celtics.com's Marc D'Amico.

Gordon Hayward, recovering from the fractured bone in his hand and expected back around Christmas, is out for the Celtics. 

The Celtics (11-2) sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. Following an opening night loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston won its next 10 before losing to the Sacramento Kings by one point on Sunday and bounced back with the 99-85 victory in Phoenix on Monday night. 

They'll take on the Clippers on Wednesday and Denver Nuggets on Friday to complete their Western trip before returning home to face the Kings and Brooklyn Nets next week. 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.  

 

Shoulder injury casts doubt on Kyrie Irving playing against Celtics next week

Shoulder injury casts doubt on Kyrie Irving playing against Celtics next week

Brooklyn Nets point guard, and former Celtic, Kyrie Irving may not play against Boston next week -- shocker, right?

The 27-year-old already has been ruled out for the Nets matchup Wednesday with the Charlotte Hornets with a shoulder impingement. It'll be the third game in a row he's missed and the Nets are 1-1 without him. 

Irving has only eight days to recover from the injury before a highly-anticipated return to TD Garden on Thanksgiving Eve. If he misses the remainder of the Nets' games this week, it's more than likely he won't play in Boston -- especially considering he'll be in for a rather unfriendly reception from C's fans.

He certainly didn't leave Boston on a high note after first committing to re-sign with the Celtics, then backing off that in what became a disappointing season where his leadership was questioned and he had well-publicized differences with his younger teammates. That led to his eventual free-agent departure to Brooklyn to join his friend Kevin Durant, who is out for the season after tearing his Achilles in the NBA Finals with Golden State. It appears there are leadership questions in Brooklyn, too, after reports of his "mood swings" irritating Nets' officials. 

Nonetheless, through 11 games, Irving is averaging 28.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists. If he does end up playing against the Celtics, his reception, and how he performs against his old teammates, will be interesting to watch. 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.