For the better part of the past 19 months, media interactions with Celtics players have largely been limited to Zoom. But the start of the 2021-22 season has opened the doors a bit, including at the team’s training facility, where a handful of reporters were able to watch the tail end of Day 1 of camp.
Here’s a handful of notable sights and sounds picked up over the first 48 hours of the new season, from Media Day through Ime Udoka’s first official practice as head coach of the Celtics:
Time Lord's "shocking" extension
Robert Williams could have ridden out the 2021-22 season with hopes of a major payday next summer. Instead, he instructed his agent to get an extension done.
The Celtics and Williams came to an agreement on a four-year pact worth up to $54 million. That’s an average annual value of $13.5 million, a number that Williams could have easily exceeded with a healthy and productive season.
But he didn’t really consider waiting.
"I told my agent before the season even started, when we started discussing contract extensions, I told him I wanted to stay,” said Williams. “I feel like we have a pretty good group here. A good group of coaches, a couple people I came in the league with here with [Marcus] Smart, [Jayson Tatum], [Jaylen Brown], we got Al [Horford] back. So we kinda know what it takes, we just gotta apply it.”
A month after agreeing to an extension, Williams still can’t believe he got his first big NBA payday. Now he wants to reward the Celtics for their faith.
"Honestly, it was amazing, I went through three days of shock -- feel like I’m still in shock,” said Williams. "Just a sense of -- they trust me. When people put their trust in you, you gotta take it seriously. So locked in.”
Nobody shook down Payton Pritchard for No. 11
Celtics newcomers always fret the lack of available digits. Heck, Dennis Schroder had to settle for No. 71 (reversing his beloved No. 17) this season. At least a couple of veteran players had their eyes on No. 11 but decided to let second-year guard Payton Pritchard keep it.
“I’m just not going to bully him. That’s not me,” said veteran Enes Kanter, who wore No. 11 in his first Boston tenure (and famously declared *he* wanted to be the reason that no one wore it again to poke fun at departed Kyrie Irving). “When you come to the Celtics, that’s what happens. A lot of numbers retired. Just give me a number that is not a non-number, give me a normal number.”
And that’s how Kanter ended up with 13. Though he did say he considered wearing 99 as a tribute to his good friend Tacko Fall, who is camping with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Josh Richardson had a harder time finding his new digit. He’s worn 0 throughout his NBA career but wasn’t getting that from Tatum. He wore 1 at Tennessee but that’s retired for Walter Brown. He wanted 7 but that belongs to Jaylen Brown. He wondered about 10 and 14 but found out they were retired for Jo Jo White and Bob Cousy.
So he settled on 8. Why 8?
“It’s a 0 with an extra line in it,” joked Richardson, while blocking the middle of the 8 with his hand.
Richardson was set to wear No. 14 as a rookie in Miami but gave it up when the team signed Gerald Green.
“He took me shopping, so it wasn’t that bad,” said Richardson. “I got some Louis [Vuitton] backpacks. It was cool. I went from carrying around those little square backpacks to like four Louis backpacks.”
President Brad not waiting to deal
New Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens had a dizzying summer after taking the GM reigns from Danny Ainge. But even after a fairly modest roster remodel, Stevens said he won’t hesitate to make more deals if it can help the team.
Yes, Bartering Brad is the new Trader Danny.
“[The summer was] good prep for what’s coming ahead [at the trade deadline] in February, but we’re not going to wait until February if we don’t need to,” said Stevens. “We’re going to keep an eye on what we need to do to constantly improve. That’s the bottom line: We want to be in the mix to do good things.”
Stevens heaped praise on Ainge’s staff, including Mike Zarren and Austin Ainge, for making the transition so seamless this offseason. He also singled out vice president of player development and organizational growth Allison Feaster for her input in the team’s dealings. Stevens hinted the team could soon announce some new hires to the front office staff.
“As we build it out, just like our team, we’ve got some really talented people in there, and we’re trying to bring in people that accentuate that, that show great growth opportunity, that are excited about being a part of the Celtics, and that can add value to what our biggest areas of need are,” said Stevens. “So we’ve been fortunate enough to do that. We've had some recent hires that I’m sure we’ll announce at some point soon that we feel good about.”
Slim Grant Williams ready to joust
Grant Williams packed on some extra weight late in his rookie year with hopes of being better able to compete as a smallball 5. Some of Boston’s best minutes in the bubble that year featured Grant Williams at the 5. But he never shed that weight entering his sophomore season and felt it hindered him while playing more power forward last year.
Grant Williams said he felt sluggish all last season so he put an emphasis this summer on dropping weight and ramping up his conditioning. He’s down somewhere around 12-15 pounds and expects to drop as much as 10 more pounds during the season.
"This summer was mainly about individual improvement,” said Williams. “Diet was the biggest thing for me this summer, getting to the weight I wanted to play at. As well as shooting, continuing to make strides defensively. A little bit of a balanced approach, hopefully. I feel pretty good. I feel confident.”
That confidence showed on Day 1 of camp when Williams had an encouraging stretch in this rotating 1-on-1 work against Enes Kanter and Bruno Fernando …
Despite slimming down, Grant Williams is hoping his strength will still allow him to compete down low against bigger 5s if called upon to resume that role.
Cheering in the Horford household
Al Horford exuded an obvious excitement on a day that players -- and especially veterans that have been through these chores multiple times -- would prefer to get through their media day duties as fast as possible.
Horford was still glowing about being back in Boston. Horford said his agent called him after the season and told him any offseason deal might not materialize until draft night. But the Celtics had motivation to move early and the Kemba Walker deal came together fast.
“Everything happened so quick, it came together so fast, I was surprised, and it caught me off guard,” said Horford. “My agent knew how I felt about wanting to be back here. I got the call from Brad. It was all smiles. A lot of screaming at the house. Everyone was very excited.”
Horford seemed genuinely excited about Boston’s chances to outkick expectations this season.
"When I saw how Brad put together this team, it just really got me excited,” said Horford.
The Jays show their range
Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us considering their All-Star statuses, but it’s still impressive to watch Tatum and Brown do individual shooting drills after practice. Here’s a small glimpse at both of the Jays from the same spot getting up shots after Day 1:
Despite his penchant for side-step 3s, Tatum hit the right notes in his post-practice meeting with reporters when he was asked about what he wants to add to his game this season.
"Getting to the line more every season, getting downhill, getting to the basket,” said Tatum. "That goes hand-in-hand with shooting more free throws. That’s just a big part of being efficient in today’s game.”