Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and first-year coach Brad Stevens were not being competitively coy this summer when they shrugged their shoulders upon being asked about topics like the team's potential starting lineup, rotations, and even overall expectations. How in the world could they answer those questions without actually seeing this overhauled team on the floor?
They'll get that opportunity Tuesday with the first of three days of workouts on the campus of Salve Regina University to start training camp. Sure, Boston has held informal workouts for much of the summer, but even as players trickled back to the area, there's only so much you can gauge from individual workouts or 3-on-3 games.
Now, even with lingering logjams at shooting guard and power forward, and with Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger still rehabbing from February surgeries, the Celtics will get a better idea of exactly what they've got this week and can finally start drafting a road map to where they want to be.
"[The start of camp] gives me a sense of excitement," said Ainge. "I’m anxious to see how the competition goes and how the combinations work together. I’m very excited about this year. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think we’re going to have great energy. I honestly don’t know who the starting 5 will be or who the second 5 will be or any of those things. I’m very confident that we’re going to have some pretty good competition. We have a deep team, but how they all fit together, I just don’t know yet."
Ainge has admitted the roster isn't the perfect blend of players, particularly at those traffic-jammed positions where skill sets overlap and will make it difficult on Stevens to determine roles and divide playing time early on. Ainge also acknowledges that few trades happen this time of year and the Celtics have to figure out what they have before they start shuffling pieces later in the year (and especially next summer).
Ainge knows everyone expects his team to struggle and understands that a very real possibility. But until he sees this team in camp, he can't gauge what is reasonable expectations.
"I honestly don’t know what my expectations are yet. I need to see this team play together," said Ainge. "We have a brand new coaching staff that’s never worked together, we have a [new] group of guys, we have a little bit of a logjam at the four and the five, and a little bit of a logjam at the two... There’s so many questions that Brad has to figure out through training camp and exhibition season and probably through the course of the season. I don’t say patience. I’m excited about it. I expect those guys to play hard every night. We’ll figure it out as the year goes on."
For his part, Stevens has fielded plenty of questions about whether Boston might struggle in his first season, potentially exposing the first-year coach to more losing than he saw his entire time at Butler. But he's not worried about results at the moment.
"My job is to coach basketball and coach the team. The team’s job is to play to their highest level," said Stevens. "Part of coaching a team is to find strengths and putting [players] into position to use those strengths. I don’t get too emotionally worried about results one way or another. I’m a competitive guy. My goal from a coaching perspective is to get these guys in position to have as much success as possible as soon as possible. That’s going to be our task every single day.
"To do that as a team, No. 1, we’re going to have to come together because it’s a new team, it’s a new group of guys, and share a common goal, and that common goal has got to be that we can be the best we can be today, get better and then keep getting better and better and try to be as good as we can by the first game and the next game and just do it as a day-by-day, step-by-step process."
Tuesday's practice is Step 1 and might start helping answering all the questions surrounding this team.
One thing is certain: Things will be different this year and that's not necessarily a bad thing. For the past six seasons, a veteran roster entered camp with a familiar look and a singular goal. Most everything is new this season and it should inject some life into camp.