On July 1, Kemba Walker smiled and talked about how excited he was that his troublesome left knee was finally feeling better. He said he was glad to feel like Kemba again.
Coach Brad Stevens said the Celtics intend to be cautious with Walker as they increase his activity in Orlando, particularly after such a lengthy break. And Stevens said that after a few early individual workouts last week, Walker began to experience a bit of discomfort again, so they decided to err even more on the side of caution and hold him out of full practices so far.
“He certainly I think feels better than he did even in March,” Stevens said. “But with just even the small discomfort we said, ‘Let’s take the four days, and ramp it up appropriately.’ The number one thing is strength, and strength around the knee. Hard to do that with the four days we just had.”
Stevens said that when the Celtics start scrimmaging against other teams next week, Walker could be a bit behind schedule.
“But his health is the most important thing,” Stevens said. “And it’s not just for this particular period, it’s for the long run. And strength around the knee is important.”
The Celtics’ traveling party of players and coaches was limited to 22, so the team had to make some tough decisions when whittling down its coaching staff for the trip to Orlando.
But now that Kara Lawson has been named the head coach of the Duke women’s basketball team, she will soon leave the team, and Stevens said her spot in the bubble will be filled by assistant coach Brandon Bailey, who was the head coach of the Maine Red Claws last season.
“Brandon has been great from afar as have the other guys that are still in Boston,” Stevens said. “So it will be nice to have him down, but certainly, we will miss Kara.”
Bailey and fellow assistants Kenny Graves, Matt Reynolds and Jordan Bachynski all remained in Boston after the Celtics left. But Stevens said that group will be an integral part of the operation.
“They’re part of the practice scheduling, they’re part of the practice planning, they’re part of the practice review,” Stevens said. “Brandon is our defensive checklist guy that makes sure we go through everything we need to go through to prepare in a short amount of time and he’s amazing with that. We showed film that he put together today . . . Those guys are all being asked to do a lot from afar and they all do great work from afar.”
Assistant coach Tony Dobbins, who mostly works during games cutting film in real time in the locker room area, will replace Lawson on the bench in Orlando, Stevens said.
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward said the first few days of practice have hardly been perfect, not that it comes as a great surprise after a four-month layoff.
“I think definitely rusty, that’s for sure,” Hayward said. “I think we’re all trying to find our rhythm, find our groove. I think, no matter how much shooting you’ve done or running you’ve done, there’s nothing like playing basketball. I didn’t get a chance to play any basketball [during quarantine]. Just trying to use these weeks that we have to prepare, use them wisely, find a rhythm, find a groove. It does feel good to be out there playing, that’s for sure.”
Forward Grant Williams said that Monday’s practice session, which included some of the first five-on-five action since the team’s return, was at least competitive.
“It was definitely a little bit rusty, a little bit sloppy, but I feel like we were all kind of just antsy anticipating being ready to play,” Williams said. “I feel like as we go on and continue to move on in the future, we’ll be preparing and ready to step on the court. We definitely had a little bit of sluggish legs today, I feel like, but that’s just a matter of getting back into basketball games, to playing.”