By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics have not forgotten last year’s disappointment. But they aren’t going to harp on it with the new season set to begin next week.
When the Celtics open up training camp next Tuesday, they’ll do so with a much different roster than the one that couldn’t live up to last year’s massive hype. Gone are Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris, and so too are the expectations to compete for a title. With the departure of Irving and Horford, many have the Celtics have sinking back to the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference — good enough to win some games in the regular season, but not good enough to do much when the playoffs arrive.
Boston replaced Irving with Kemba Walker, who is a little less offensively gifted but a lot less of a headache. They replaced Horford with … well they didn’t really replace the defense provided by Horford and Baynes with anyone. Instead, they’ll trot out an offense-centric center in Enes Kanter, and hope that Robert Williams III can provide some D off the bench. In place of Rozier and Morris, key cogs off the bench, is Boston’s collection of rookies in Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards and about 30 other first-year NBA hopefuls they’ve invited to camp.
On paper, things are a lot different for the Celtics heading into 2018-19. While they added some talent, they appeared to focus more on heart, something last year’s squad was severely lacking at times.
But head coach Brad Stevens wouldn’t play the comparison game on Monday when asked about the differing rosters from this season and last.
“I just think it’s, generally, each team is different,” Stevens told reporters at the team’s annual golf tournament at Old Sandwich Golf Club in Plymouth. “We have so many new guys. It’s just a different scenario, it’s a different feel, it’s a different group altogether. There’s always going to be noise. I think no matter what the expectations are, or whether you’re not projected to be any good, or whether you’re projected to be really good, the bottom line is there’s noise everywhere. And that just increases year to year, to be honest, especially with the amount of attention, the amount of media, the amount of social media, the amount of instant feedback.”
The tempered expectations will go up and down throughout the season, evolving as the team figures out their identity over the opening weeks and months. No one is expecting the Celtics to win 60-plus games anymore (no one on the outside, at least), and that may work to the team’s benefit.
“I said this the other day: My care is that we play with great effort and togetherness. That is it. That’s what we’re looking for, that’s what we want to be,” said Stevens. “All the technical basketball plays and system, all that stuff, that stuff will figure itself out. I feel like we’re in a good foundation there, but we’ve got to play like a Boston team should.”
Stevens has not forgotten about the massive disappointment that was last season, the first real season that his squad was expected to win. He spent the summer learning from everything that went wrong last year, and still places much of the blame on his own shoulders. He’s ready to make up for that with this new crop of players, and hopes the results are much different on the floor.
But as important as it is to learn from ones mistakes, Stevens also won’t harp on everything that went wrong in 2018-19 when camp beings next week.
“I thought we [played together] at times, I didn’t think we were as good as a couple years before. But I mean, that’s not brain surgery,” he said. “I realize that every time we say that, that’s the headline. But, at the end of the day, this team’s done a good job of flipping the page and moving forward and focusing on itself. I really like the guys that are in our gym right now.”
Turning the page is important, especially when it’s about a substandard campaign that ended with massive disappointment. Dwelling on the failures of last year really won’t do much to help the current team.
But leaving that page dogeared may not be the worst idea for Stevens and company, just in case.