BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics head into the 2018-19 season with one of the best rosters in the NBA, a mix of veterans who have been doing this for a long time and promising youngsters eager to make their mark in the league.
Because of that, and with the brilliant young mind of Brad Stevens on the bench, the expectations are high for the upcoming season. Extremely high. Even before we’ve seen a healthy Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward hit the floor, or gotten a glimpse of how Stevens will divvy up all the minutes while keeping his stacked roster happy, many are slotting the Celtics in as the Eastern Conference’s representative in the NBA Finals.
It will be eight long months until we see if that’s how this season will play out, and the Celtics have a lot to prove before we can even start to think about a date with the Golden State Warriors. With training camp just a few weeks way, it won’t be long until we start to see Stevens’ juggling act with the roster, which is one of the most glaring questions facing the team heading into the new season.
But speaking with reporters at Tuesday night’s ABCD Hoop Dreams event at the TD Garden, Boston’s wunderkind head coach isn’t fretting about balancing his loaded roster. Really, determining the rotation will be easy; the difficult part will be convincing certain players to put aside their personal goals and do what’s best for the team, even if that means fewer minutes on the floor or fewer shots per game.
With a great mix of veterans and young players, Stevens doesn’t believe splitting up minutes will be an issue. And if it does become one, the team knows it’s an issue that could derail all the hope and hype of achieving their ultimate goal.
“I think we’ve got a really good locker room,” said Stevens. “I don’t think it’s any secret to anybody that there’s only 240 minutes in a game. If we all struggle with that, more than just the human nature if you get taken out — that’s OK, that’s part of it — but if we all struggle with that, then we won’t be very good. If we don’t, then we’ll have a chance to be pretty good.”
As for his rotation, Stevens doesn’t sound too concerned about it. At least not yet. The odds are good that, if healthy, Irving and Hayward will be in the starting five, likely flanked by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford — the same lineup that started last season in Cleveland. Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes will all be counted on for big, defensive minutes off the bench. Terry Rozier will be asked to turn into Scary Terry again whenever Kyrie needs a break, and when Stevens needs a switch-happy three-and-D player, he’ll turn to veteran Marcus Morris. And we can’t forget about big man Daniel Theis, who if healthy, will be an important big man off the pine as well. We haven’t even gotten to Semi Ojeleye, who has bulked up even more this summer as he looks to boost his role as Boston’s tough guy off the bench in his second NBA season.
Stevens has no doubt been thinking about his lineups and rotations this summer, but he knows full well that everything can change in an instant.
“I’m more focused on how we want to play than necessarily how we’re going to rotate,” he said. “I mean if last year’s not the best example, I don’t know what would be. Things can change. Your rotation can change in a heartbeat. You can work all summer on it, and you’ve got to adjust in one day. I think the bottom line is we have an idea of who will play together and who best fits together and what lineups we think we’ll try to use, but we’ll see how it all shakes itself out.”
It will all start shaking itself out when the Celtics begin training camp on Sept. 26. With Irving and Hayward set to rejoin a team that came up just a few quality minutes short of a trip to the NBA Finals last season, it’s hard not to feel great about their makeup heading into the new year. But always a realist, Stevens knows they are not alone in the feel-good department. If the 2018-19 Celtics want to live up to this preseason hype surrounding the team, they are going to have to go out and earn it.
“One of the things about all 30 teams at the start of the season is everybody’s looking at their upside and looking at the best possible scenarios,” Stevens said. “I think everybody feels great about where they are and who they are because nobody’s played a game yet, nobody’s lost a game yet.
“We just need to be the best version of ourselves,” said Stevens, echoing the message that has reverberated through the TD Garden since he arrived in 2013. “We can’t skip steps. We can’t talk about being a favorite. We can’t talk about being in the mix. We can’t talk about being a playoff team. We have to go back and earn all that.”