Just a few days before the Boston Celtics kicked off training camp, the Cs would have to deal with some of the most shocking news this franchise has ever seen.
Within a few days, Joe Mazzulla was thrust into the head coaching position, and the entire team had to cope with the fact that the leader that guided them to an NBA Finals appearance was not going to be there as the Celtics looked to finish the job. Still, the news today about the situation, and Ime Udoka’s future is widely unclear, but over the past few weeks, the players, and the organization has been business as usual.
From the apparent growth of Jayson Tatum as a more vocal leader to how welcome the newcomers feel in an unfamiliar environment, the Boston Celtics have done an incredible job of constantly staying professional and making the story heading into the season about Mazzulla as a talented coach rather than Ime Udoka absent from the sideline.
Whether it was Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, or Dennis Schroder preventing the progress of the Celtics in the past, Boston has found a way to conquer its biggest obstacle off the court yet. While the story around Udoka’s suspension was one of the largest in sports for weeks, it is incredible that this team has been able to adjust as quickly as it has to embark on a mission with a coach that has been on the sideline with Boston since the 2019 season.
Practice is just as intense according to Jaylen Brown, and Blake Griffin, who spent last season with the Brooklyn Nets, was quite impressed by how different of an atmosphere this team has created in comparison to the one he was a part of towards the conclusion of last season. Of the team that made the Finals run, each one of them realizes how difficult getting there was, and with the help of two more savvy veterans in the rotation, Boston hopes it can jump the final hurdle.
Following the practice on Monday, veteran Al Horford spoke on the camaraderie of the team at this moment in time, stating:
“I felt like once we kind of jelled together midway through last year, it kind of carried over and when we got back this season, it’s kind of like buddies like you’re back to school…Everybody’s back hanging out together every day, practicing, and going to work. Off the court, getting to hang out. That’s what it is. The new guys are coming in and we’re welcoming them with open arms and just keep it moving.”
Even at the beginning of the season last year, there were problems in the locker room, and this season, Boston has picked up right where it left off in the postseason last year despite losing its head coach, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and a promising veteran role player off the bench for the season.
Every player looks to have a role on the team and is embracing it wholeheartedly, something that has not happened in Boston consistently for quite some time. Even Danilo Gallinari, who is out for the remainder of the season, is in an upbeat mood, posting videos of his rehab, and staying around the team as much as possible despite the fact that he can’t expose mismatches in a real game just yet. Players could have been hesitant to start training camp given the news that dropped just before it, but there is something about this group already that keeps them locked in at the long task ahead of them.
From a few of the Celtics going to the Boston College football game this past week to going out to dinner on the first road trip of the season, Boston looks to be on track to have grown in many ways while maintaining the mood around the team that was present before the offseason began in June. Tatum’s voice has started to be heard on a different level compared to the past, as his sixth season at the professional level looks to be the one where his new leadership style takes the Boston Celtics over the hump for the first time.
The Boston Celtics look like contenders
During camp, Derrick White spoke on Jayson Tatum’s growth from last season to the beginning of this one, stating:
“He does a lot of talking, pulling guys aside, seeing how we can get the best look and whatever it might be…So [you] definitely see that maturity and the growth that he’s he’s doing…He wants to win. It’s always good to follow guys that want to win.”
Even with one more tune-up before competitive basketball begins, this year’s Boston Celtics team has already shown qualities that championship-caliber teams need to possess. Whether it is highly competitive practices, embracing the new additions to the team, or doing activities outside of the game, Brad Stevens looked to have accomplished his job of maintaining the core of this team while filling the holes on and off the floor.
All of it seemed to have a cloud falling over it when Boston decided to relieve Udoka of his duties for the rest of the season. Any other group of guys could have folded or turned it in, but despite not playing a single game that has counted, the way this team has looked in the preseason has been more than just impressive following the foggy dismissal of its leader that guided this team to the top of the Eastern Conference.