Celtics

Wizards' Wall on NBA East contenders: 'I feel like we're all equal'

Wizards' Wall on NBA East contenders: 'I feel like we're all equal'

Wizards guard John Wall told Yahoo Sports that his team might be overlooked when talking about the NBA's Eastern Conference contenders. 

“Everybody is going to put Boston No. 1, because that’s what you’re supposed to," Wall said. "They had a hell of a season with those guys coming back. You’ve got Philly, they got their pieces. I feel like those top four, those top five — you can’t forget Milwaukee, what they have with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] — I feel like it’s all cluttered. I put us right there.”

Wall said even the Celtics, favored in Vegas to reach the NBA Finals, have question marks. 

“On paper, everybody looks great,” Wall said “We look great. Boston looks great on paper. But how are all those young guys going to mesh with Kyrie [Irving] being back? Or Gordon Hayward being back? Nobody knows how that’s going to work. Now, they’ve got a hell of a coach in Brad Stevens, and [with GM and president] Danny Ainge, they’re going to figure it out. But you still got to put it all together. You’ve still got to make it work on the court. We don’t know how Kawhi is going to work. We know what Simmons and Embiid are going to give you, but it’s a new year.

“I feel like we’re all equal,” Wall said. “None of them won a championship. This is no knock on no other team. Don’t get me wrong. Boston is a hell of a team. Philly has great young talent with those guys [Joel] Embiid, [Ben] Simmons. And Toronto, losing DeMar [DeRozan], they still get Kawhi [Leonard]. Y’all might have been to the Eastern Conference finals, where we haven’t been to, but none of y’all were going to the Finals. It was one guy going to the Finals. Ain’t nobody separated from nothing. I know one guy that separated himself from the Eastern Conference every year and that was LeBron James and the Cavs. Other than that … if you lose in the second round, or the conference finals, you still didn’t get to your ultimate goal."

Wall's Wizards took a step back last season after reaching the Eastern Conference semifinals and losing to the Celtics in seven games in 2017. Last season, Wall missed 41 games with a knee injury and Washington was knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by the Toronto Raptors.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

On eve of camp, Celtics with appreciation for what's ahead

On eve of camp, Celtics with appreciation for what's ahead

CANTON, Mass. — Many of his teammates, their exhausting Media Day chores complete, had already departed when Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart unleashed a guttural scream that even startled Aron Baynes recording a promo on a nearby soundstage. 

All the eyes of the workers on a cavernous studio lot at High Output fixed their gaze upon Smart, who sensed their glare and quickly broke into a big smile. 

Smart was back in his element, his scream meant to simulate the intensity he so frequently brings to the court.

Two days after bidding farewell to his mother, Camellia, Smart returned to Boston as the Celtics endured Media Day in advance of Tuesday’s start of training camp. Even as a somber Smart detailed how his mother’s passing at the age of 63 had left him reeling, the 24-year-old found solace in the return of basketball. 

"A lot of people have heard me say this and explain it this way: I look at basketball as like a storm. But it’s the eye of the storm,” said Smart. "The calmest place of [the storm] is to be right in the eye of it. And that’s what basketball is for me, it’s my eye. 

“While everything else around me is going on, the destruction and things like that, basketball keeps me calm. That’s probably why I go out and you see me dive on the floor, or take a charge, or throw my body this way and give it everything I have because I know and understand that any day could be my last day. And if it were, would I be proud of what I accomplished in that time period? God has blessed me with an ability to go out there and play the game that I love to play. And I don’t want to regret that. So I feel I need to go out every day and play like it’s my last.”

That’s a profound statement on a day typically reserved for tomfoolery. But there was this obvious sense of appreciation in Smart’s voice about simply resuming basketball activities. And it reverberated among many of his Celtics teammates on the eve of the team's first honest-to-goodness practices of the 2018-19 season.

Kyrie Irving, whose season was curtailed for the second time in three years due to a balky left knee, glowed when detailing how he re-immersed himself in basketball this past summer after being sidelined for Boston’s run to the cusp of the NBA Finals.

"I missed it so much,” said Irving. "And for it to be taken away the way it did, the timing of everything, it just wasn’t ideal. It was hurtful honestly because it was an uncontrollable thing. To go through it was a learning experience, but it only helped my evolution as a person and as a player.”

The mere mention of Boston’s informal pickup games caused Irving to light up again. "Our pickups have been unbelievable,” said Irving. "If any cameras ever got a shot in there, it would be like, ‘This is pretty close to a game.’”

Real games will be here soon enough, with the Celtics scheduled for a pair of two-a-day sessions starting Tuesday before the team flies to North Carolina for an exhibition game against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

For Gordon Hayward, it’s been 11 months since he’s been on the court with his teammates for an actual team practice or game, the gruesome fractured ankle he suffered just minutes into the 2017-18 season forcing him to spend the rest of the season rehabbing with no promise of when he’d be back on the court.

A month and a half before the ankle injury, Irving and Hayward sat at a dais inside TD Garden for their joint introductory press conference and marveled about what lied ahead. “It’s about to be crazy, G,” Irving told Hayward that day.

It’s about to be even crazier. And both players have an obvious appreciation for what they missed last season.

"It was very difficult to have to watch the whole year … and then I watched the playoffs with [Irving], so I know it was hard for him,” said Hayward. "To sit there as a competitor, the last thing that you want to do is to be stuck on the sidelines. I think that gave some of the other guys on the team valuable experience. We're both looking forward to this year and getting started.”

But even those that were a part of Boston’s playoff run last season seem to have a great appreciation for what’s ahead. While 30 teams sit at Media Day and suggest that they have the talent necessary to compete for an NBA title, only a small handful actually mean it.

The Celtics are one of those teams. And they’re not taking any of this for granted.

"I think it’s important to appreciate what we have,” said Al Horford, who deemed these Celtics more talented than any other team he’s been a part of. "We have a really good opportunity, we have a good team, we have a lot of great players. We can’t look ahead. We just have to make the most out of every step. I think with that mindset, we should be fine.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Kyrie Irving knows Boston would never let him leave

Kyrie Irving knows Boston would never let him leave

After Jimmy Butler's request for a trade last week, Kyrie Irving's upcoming free agency has been the talk of the town. 

The potential of Irving leaving Boston for New York has been a topic discussed on and off throughout the offseason, but with Butler's trade request, the rumors only grew louder. 

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston, Irving ackowledges that he understands the spotlight that has been put on the situation he faces after this season. 

“It comes with the territory, which I understand, and also, the point I’m at in my career, it warrants that, naturally.”

But Irving reiterated what he has been saying most of the offseason: that he knows he's in a a special situation with the Celtics, and appreciates that to its fullest extent. 

“It’s like, man, if you only knew how special this organization was, and how special these guys are in this locker room... even if I had the inclination to test free agency, Boston’s gonna be like, ‘No, you’re coming back’. And I’m fine with that”

That certainly doesn't sound like someone who has one foot out the door, ready to bolt for the Knicks at the end of the year. 

Irving also discussed his comfort level and familiarity, in comparison to this time last year. 

“I think coming into this year, how comfortable I am, and being around the guys, it’s a lot different than just coming in off a trade... the focus is different, the feeling is different, the love is just the same… it’s just a lot more elevated, which I’m appreciative of."

Irving seems as excited as anyone about the upcoming season, and Celtics fans love to hear his glowing sponsership of the team and locker room that they've come to love over the last season. 

Irving didn't sign an extension over the offseason, but it's been well-documented that it is a financial decision more than anything; he can earn tens of millions more if he waits until the end of this year. From all accounts, including Irving's, that's all it was: a financial decision. 

It's a long season and anything can happen, but the early returns indicate that we should get used to the sight of Irving in Celtics green.