Commentary

Celtics embrace their big adventure

Like in '07, team hopes European bonding trip is the start of something special

Updated: October 1, 2012, 6:46 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Fresh off the addition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Boston Celtics trekked overseas for training camp before the 2007-08 season and forged an immediate bond that players and coaches credited with propelling them to their 17th world title.

What exactly was so special about that trip to London and Rome?

"Their cellphones didn't work, so they actually had to talk to each other on the bus," deadpanned Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought that was nice."

After an offseason that saw another roster overhaul -- Garnett is back, but Allen's departure ended the Big Three era after five seasons and Boston's supporting cast got a makeover -- Rivers is hoping pricy international calling plans will again force his team to bond when the Celtics visit Istanbul and Milan this week.

[+] EnlargeBoston Celtics
Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire Doc Rivers and his players are looking forward to spending time together on and off the court. "When you go abroad, to a place and it's foreign to you, guys have a tendency to come together," said Paul Pierce.

The Celtics were scheduled for an 11-hour flight to Turkey on Monday night to kick off a weeklong adventure that features a pair of exhibition games against foreign foes. Forced outside the comforts of the training facility -- and away from stateside distractions -- team leaders are hoping to once again form the sort of Ubuntu all-for-one bond that emerged from the last European vacation.

"Obviously we want to work on team chemistry and we want to get better every time we step on the floor," said Garnett. "From a basketball standpoint, we're still getting to know each other. It'll be bigger than that. I think Turkey will be more social; the trip to Milan will be more for the chemistry. ... It's all positive."

While the trip is a bit of a logistical nightmare -- Rivers would have preferred to leave Friday after the team's media day instead of breaking up his camp -- players are approaching the trek with true (and somewhat surprising) optimism.

Captain Paul Pierce took to Twitter Monday morning to announce, "Can't sleep all gassed up to go to Istanbul today this could b the start of something special." Jeff Green, who sat out all of last season after undergoing heart surgery, wrote, "Aaaahhhhhhhh goodmorning everyone ... excited about this trip to Istanbul and Milan ... will be an amazing trip with my bros."

The Celtics will practice in Istanbul for two days before meeting Fenerbahce Ulker on Friday. The scene then shifts to Milan for a game against Emporio Armani on Sunday and the team flies home the next day.

Despite the inherent difficulties in international travel, the Celtics are in good spirits about filling up their passports. Asked what he was looking forward to most, point guard Rajon Rondo quipped, "A lot of shopping."

He quickly clarified that this is a business trip.

"This is a regular training camp, except we'll be out of the country," said Rondo. "We want to continue our focus as far as getting better each day, working on sets, and just becoming as good of a team as we can in these seven days."

As for their downtime, the Celtics really don't know what to expect, but Rivers is gathering resources to plan field trips.

"It's funny, I've bought three or four books, I have magazines -- and I have not opened one yet," said Rivers. "But I figure I have 11 hours [on the plane] to brush up on it. Ask me that question when I land, and I'll give you all the information.

"I talked to a lot of people that have been to Turkey, a ton of people -- I was actually with two guys [Sunday] night that were there for a month last summer and they loved it. So we'll see."

There's a picture that hangs in Rivers' office of his team together outside the Colosseum in Rome during the 2007 trip. The starters all have shaved heads, part of the team bonding experience that saw Rondo and Pierce go bald to match the look of Garnett and Allen.

Pierce would almost certainly take another close crop if it led to the same end result in hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy.

"When we went to Rome five years ago, it was great when you brought a new team together," he said. "When you go abroad, to a place and it's foreign to you, guys have a tendency to come together. Usually, when we're practicing here in Waltham, guys go to practice, you talk in the locker room, then you go home to your families. When you're overseas, you go to practice, then the guys go to lunch together, go to dinner together, so it gives you a better opportunity to get to know your teammates.

"That sort of bond really helps a team in the long run when you get the guys together like that," Pierce added. "I think that was instrumental in our run to a championship the first year, and I'm excited about this trip. It's going to be fun just getting with the new guys and experiencing it and understanding it's going to be a long journey. It's starting this year in Turkey and hopefully it ends with an NBA championship again."

Added Garnett: "I see a lot of parallels with '07-08 and this year. I'm just wondering if we can bond and come together and give each other to each other for the betterment of this whole goal. Obviously, it worked then, we'll see if it works now."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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