Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge admits the team’s talent level will be a greater concern this year, writes Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. The Celtics entered last season as clear favorites to win the East, but expectations are lower now that Kyrie Irving and Al Horford both left in free agency.
“I think that last year’s questions were more based on how is it going to jell? There was not a question of how much talent we had,” Ainge said to reporters before today’s open practice. “This year, the question is, are we good enough? And can players step up and take advantage of the opportunities that they’re given to become more elite?”
Signing Kemba Walker helped to ease the loss of Irving, and Enes Kanter will likely take over in the middle. Ainge said he’s encouraged by the early results from training camp as the players work to erase the memory of last year’s disappointment.
Ainge addressed several other topics in the session with the media:
On Gordon Hayward‘s progress nearly two full years after a severe ankle injury:
“I think, right now, there’s been a lot of buzz about Gordon and his comeback and I’m worried that it’s getting a little out of hand. Like, I think he’s Gordon. He’s back to being Gordon. And we’re very excited about that. I sometimes worry, like, ‘Oh my gosh, they think it’s somebody else.’ But I’m excited about Gordon. I’m excited about Kemba. Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum] had really good summers. They’ve looked really good in training camp. Obviously they have a great comfort level with the system. And Marcus [Smart]. So, we know who all of those guys are. I think there are lots of questions in lots of other places on the roster.”
On coach Brad Stevens’ status after the team failed to meet last year’s lofty expectations:
“If 49 wins is the worst season in your coaching career, you’re probably going to be OK. But Brad just keeps getting better. These experiences, he’s a young coach, works harder than anybody, very bright. I have all the confidence in the world that last year was a learning experience for him, just like all of our young players. Like I said many many times before and I’ll continue to say, he’s the least of our worries. He’s prepared, and I think these experiences are going to make him a great coach.”
On the competition at center without Horford and Aron Baynes:
“Most of [the bigs] are new. I think Daniel [Theis] has the most experience of that group of guys with our group. I think he’s got a little bit of a head start, just mentally and emotionally and understanding what Brad wants. I think I can see some of the new-ness of the other guys. I think Robert [Williams] has taken big strides from last year to where he’s at. I think his work this summer, you can see it already. So that’s an advantage for him. Those are question marks that I’m not sure how good it’s all going to fit and work but I think, individually, they all can contribute.”