NEWPORT, R.I. — A couple weeks ago, several Celtics gathered to play pick-up basketball in Boston. It was pick-up, mind you, but it was a chance for some of the team’s (many) new and (few) old faces to feel each other out and build some chemistry.
According to Jeff Green, it worked out well, too.
“It was a good start,” he said.
Now, the Celtics will continue to work on their chemistry and, well, everything else, from installing a new system to seeing which players will succeed at which positions, during two days of training camp at Salve Regina University.
The first two practices were held during the first day of camp Tuesday, one in the morning to focus on offense, and another in the late afternoon to work on defense.
Were the players surprised by anything? Jared Sullinger didn’t hesitate. His answer? The level of intensity.
“Anybody can come in here and be like, ‘Oh, Boston Celtics, that trade happened, they’re just out here to get paid,’ ” Sullinger said.
That wasn’t the case. “Everybody came in here and they busted their butts,” he said.
It could’ve been easy for them to be distracted by the scenic surroundings on a postcard perfect day.
“It’s beautiful,” coach Brad Stevens said of Newport. “I was kind of laughing, this isn’t the place you’d choose if you wanted to develop toughness.”
Toughness is a goal when it comes to the type of defense that Stevens wants the Celtics to play. For training camp, though, Avery Bradley has a simple goal in mind.
“We all want to learn each other’s games,” he said. “It’s all new to everybody.”
It’s especially new for the 36-year-old Stevens, the first-year coach (and the NBA’s youngest this season) who was previously the head coach at Butler University.
Stevens said he didn’t have any extra emotions heading into training camp.
“I enjoy getting back on the court, but the only thing I’m thinking about right now is, we have Practices 3 and 4 and I gotta go back and write them up,” he said. “So that’s all I’m thinking about. That’s just the way it goes. I don’t know when I lost my fandom and it became more of a job, but it did at one point.”
He is working with a different caliber of athlete, but Stevens said he’s been around enough NBA players — and enough training camps — that it’s not too much of a shift.
So far, through media day Monday and then Tuesday, the players have had nothing but praise for their new coach, who replaces Doc Rivers.
“He’s just very smart, very precise,” Jeff Green said of Stevens. “He’s a perfectionist. He works hard at his craft. We enjoy that.”
Stevens said evaluating a new team learning a new system will come later. For now, it’s about implementing that system and learning about the players.
“Because part of evaluating is seeing how they are going to fit into what you are trying to do,” Stevens said. “And how well they can translate that. So that’s a big start of the evaluating process. This team may be unique in that the best five people may not be the first best that play together. Because you have to play some guys that have certain strengths to accommodate our better players.”
Though some of the drills are new, Sullinger said he recognized the wording of one from when he played at Ohio State under coach Thad Matta.
Of course, Stevens coached under Matta when the two were at Butler.
Just the same, Stevens said the structure of the Celtics’ practices will be similar to those at Butler: fairly short, with some of the same drills. Likewise, new plays will be delivered over time so players aren’t overloaded with information.
“But you have to put in actions, and you’re also just trying to figure out how guys are responding to you drawing something on the board,” Stevens said. “How they respond on the fly, how they play for one another, if they’ve figured out each other’s strengths. There’s a lot that goes into a team that’s been together for six years, let alone that’s been together for a week.”
With the Celtics’ first preseason game Monday against Toronto at TD Garden, Stevens said most of the players’ conditioning levels weren’t bad, but it was hard to tell because they didn’t do much full-length work.
One staple at practice was Rajon Rondo, who is recovering from knee surgery. Rondo participated in the morning workout, doing shooting drills and non-contact basketball activities, then he rested in the afternoon.
But the All-Star point guard was a strong presence in the huddle and during drills.
“He’s just saying what we see as far as screening angles, what type of options you have,” Sullinger said. “He’s always in the guards’ ears, telling them what to do. I think as a player of his caliber and his IQ, it really helps everyone else develop, even though he’s not playing.”
Overall, the wording that Green used for that pick-up game was the same theme the Celtics used for their first day of training camp: It was a good start.
But, the theme continued: the Celtics have a long way to go.