CANTON, Mass. -- Brad Stevens had a plan for how to use Gordon Hayward a year ago, a plan that had to be shelved when Hayward suffered a season-ending ankle injury just five minutes into the season opener.
Hayward is back, healthy as ever.
And that plan?
While it will certainly be implemented on some level, the calculus for this team has changed significantly since then.
Jayson Tatum was a nervous rookie trying to fit in at this point last year.
Today, he’s one of the top young players in the NBA who appears to be an all-star in the making.
Jaylen Brown was a confident second-year player getting his first shot at major minutes.
Today, he comes into camp as the team’s second-leading scorer from a year ago and is poised to be even more impactful having spent time this summer honing his offensive repertoire under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady.
Did we mention Kyrie Irving’s back?
Ditto for his backup Terry Rozier who filled in admirably for Irving in the playoffs last season to establish his value as yet another up-and-comer who is poised for a grander role this season.
It is the kind of problem that any coach in the NBA -- or any league for that matter -- would love to have.
But it is an issue, one that will sort itself out beginning today with the first of two-a-day practices this morning.
“We understand what’s in front of us,” said Al Horford. “My mindset right now, I just want (the first practice) to get here so we can get to it in practice. Practice is going to be … we’re gonna get after it. It’s going to be competitive. I’m excited. Last year was exciting. We got after it pretty good. This year I think it’s going to be even more.”
A year ago, there was a great amount of unfamiliarity with only four players back from the previous season.
But there will not be any getting-to-know-you concerns at the start of this training camp as the Celtics welcome back most of last year’s squad while adding Brad Wanamaker and first-round pick Robert Williams to the roster.
There has been considerable talk among the players and coaches about the highly intense pick-up games players began to partake in shortly after returning to town earlier this month.
“Our pick-up (games) have been unbelievable,” said Kyrie Irving. “If any cameras got a shot in there ... this is pretty close to (an NBA) game.”
Maybe in terms of talent, but Stevens has a different take on those pick-up games he has seen.
“Talk to any coach, pick-up is not exactly the most exciting thing,” Stevens said. “Because I’m looking at the habits we need to build on the defensive end of the floor. And how the different things … we have a long way to go. That being said, we have a lot of really good players.”
How that talent meshes will ultimately determine how close this team will come to meeting its potential which begins today with the first practice.
No one expects the Celtics to be playing championship-caliber ball on the first day.
More than anything else, it’s the first step towards establishing the team’s foundation for the season.
Once that is established it becomes a matter of steady growth, the kind that involves improvement among the veterans as well as the team’s youngsters which would be akin to what we saw last season.
“Everybody has ownership in this,” Stevens said. “The young guys getting better, growing and showing new things, is a good thing. It’s a responsibility of all of us, that everybody is heading in that direction.”
And that process begins with the first day of practice today and maybe just as important, the first step towards competing for Banner 18.