LAS VEGAS — If there’s one thing that’s been hammered home by the members of the Celtics that are in Vegas this week for Team USA’s training camp, it’s this: Boston has turned the page on last year’s train wreck of a season and everyone is focused on what’s ahead.
Celtics players continue to get peppered with questions about what went wrong last season but they’ve done their best to Eurostep around them while suggesting all their energy is focused on the future.
"It’s funny because I think, on the outside, because there’s not much to talk about for two months in the summer, that’s kind of been the consistent story,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told NBC Sports Boston while visiting Team USA training camp on Wednesday. “On the inside, we moved on past it a long time ago. It’s been a great vibe in our building. We have a great group of workers.
"Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum] are here but they were in Boston last week working all the way up until this point. Obviously, we’ve had a ton of our young guys through. We turned that page a long time ago. That’s what you should do after a season. I think, whether you had success or it wasn’t as good as you want, you learn from it and move on.”
Brad Stevens on last season: ‘We’ve moved on past it a long time ago, and so it’s been a great vibe in our building’ pic.twitter.com/aVLDnLQmPh— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) August 8, 2019
The Celtics haven’t shied away from admitting that last season's team was dysfunctional and agreeing that the team fell wildly short of expectations. But players here have no desire to perform a further autopsy on why things went wrong or assign blame to specific players for those troubles.
"Last year is behind us,” said Jayson Tatum. "Everybody is kinda tired of talking about last season. We got a new team, new guys, so we’re just trying to move on, get ready for next season.”
When Marcus Smart was asked here about what he’d previously said about the departure of Kyrie Irving, he responded, "It’s over with. I’m focused on next year. … I want to focus on the guys that are going to be around.”
On Day 1 of camp in Vegas, Brown echoed Smart’s previous assertion that last year’s team was “dysfunctional.” When asked about the better vibes that seem to be surrounding the team this summer, he noted, "It can only be positive. Last year, I can’t see it being any worse than that. Coming out and being positive is everybody’s mindset."
Pressed on last season, Brown quickly steered the conversation back to Team USA and the upcoming Celtics campaign. Brown later said, "Experience is the best teacher, for sure. Every year I’ve gained and gotten more experience. This year I look at it as a new canvas, we’re artists, and it’s time to paint.”
Ever since the Celtics brought Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter to Boston for their introductory press conference last month, it has been obvious that there’s a new air of positivity around the team. The dark cloud that hovered over the Auerbach Center lifted. On the outside, some continue to wonder if that’s a reflection of how the players that have departed impacted last season.
Still, Celtics players and executives have routinely taken the high road. They’ve praised Irving and those that moved on while admitting that Boston’s issues ran far deeper than a single entity.
It’s also clear that these Celtics are eager to show that last season was an aberration. Even Newcomer Walker knows these Celtics are highly motivated to show that last year is not a reflection of what this team is capable of.
"That’s what life is about, not even just basketball. Like, you’re going to have ups and downs,” said Walker. "It’s probably good for those guys to have that down. You can’t always be on the high. To them, last season and their struggles and things like that, I think that’s motivation for them coming into this season.
"I think they’re ready. I think they’re ready to work, which they’ve been doing. And just ready to take their games to whole ’nutha level, especially because of last season. That’s how it was for me, coming in and things weren’t so great in my early years in the league but it motivated me to get better. Hopefully, they got that same feeling.”
Stevens was quick to point out that hope springs eternal across the NBA this time of year.
"There’s 30 teams with great hope and anticipation,” said Stevens. "It’s called the offseason."
The Celtics know, too, that a new season isn’t going to cure all that ailed them. The arrival of Walker, combined with a healthier Gordon Hayward, and a hungrier Tatum and Brown, still leaves the problem of shot distribution and the defining of roles. It’s unclear if one of the returnees will have to shift or remain in a reserve role given the amount of talent at the wing positions. Those are issues the team figures will resolve themselves when camp opens in late September.
It’s also why Brown bristles a bit when asked about whether next season can provide a better opportunity for young players to thrive than last season did.
"I don’t know. I’m going to keep saying that,” said Brown. "People keep asking me that question. I don’t know what the opportunity is going to be and I’m not going to put any expectations on it. I just want to come out and play basketball, and that’s all I really want to do.
"And that’s what I want to focus on. The politics and stuff, I don’t know what the front office, how they’re going to divvy up the minutes and that. I don’t know. But I just want to come out and play. I’m sure they’ll figure it out and I’ll go with whatever they chose. I trust their judgment.
"Like I said, I just want to play basketball.”
Yes, the only thing that will stop the questions about the past is showing that the future will indeed be different. Still, this offseason started the Etch-a-Sketch shake that these Celtics so desperately craved.
These Celtics, they’re on to the 2019-20 season.
"Every year is a fresh start, a chance to start over,” said Smart. "Go out there and redeem ourselves.”
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