Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck spoke to the Globe on Thursday about a variety of topics, from Gordon Hayward’s departure, to fans returning to games, to what it will take to win another title in Boston. Here is the conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity:
Q. What was your reaction to Gordon Hayward choosing to leave Boston and sign with Charlotte?
A. He had a lot of tough luck when he was here. When he was healthy, he was a really good player. Nobody worked harder than Gordon. That guy really did a good job for us, as best he could given the injuries. We wish him the best. He found a setting where they were willing to feature him at the very top of the team, with the finances that went along with that. We’re happy for him.
Q. It was such a big moment for the organization when you signed him. You can’t help but feel like it was an incomplete tenure here, through no fault of his own.
A. Yeah, it’s no fault of his. He was playing hard when he got hurt. But we made him a truly massive offer and really stretched for Gordon and asked him to stay, and he ended up taking a truly massive offer and going somewhere else. But we have nothing but appreciation for his three years and I wish him the best.
Q. Kemba Walker is going to miss the start of the season after receiving a stem-cell injection in his knee. What’s your concern level about his situation?
A. Kemba got multiple opinions, and nobody said to get surgery. So any time you’re not getting surgery, it’s hard to get too worried. So that’s my answer. Kemba will be back.
Q. Jayson Tatum signed a five-year, max extension last month. What does it mean to you to know a foundational piece will be in Boston long term?
A. That’s just a key building block for our team. He’s a great person and a great player. He’s young, he’s got years of potential, and it means everything that he wants to be here and spend his whole career here. And we feel the same way and we love the guy.
I take everything about the Celtics personally, because I put myself into it 24/7. But when someone says, ‘I want to be here. I like what’s going on. I think we can win here and I want to win a championship here,’ that’s the kind of bond we want to feel with our players.
Q. What have been your early impressions of your draft picks, Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard?
A. Danny [Ainge’s] excitement about Aaron Nesmith is about the shooting and skill and size on both sides of the ball. With Payton Pritchard, Danny just rubs his hands together. It reminds me of when we drafted [Rajon] Rondo and I encouraged him to trade up and get Rondo, because I’d never heard him so excited about a prospect. I’m not saying Payton Pritchard is Rondo, but Danny had that level of excitement about seeing this kid on the team. He’s got a fire inside, he’s ultra-competitive. Danny’s excited to have both of those guys.
Q. What do you think of the job Brad Stevens has done as a coach?
A. Yeah, well, we’ve been to the Eastern Conference finals three times in the last four years with Brad. So, that’s great. Now let’s go to the Finals and win the thing. So, yeah, taking the next step. We’re a team that I think is on a list of contenders this year. I think we have a fantastic coach and the right guy for this group. You’ve got guys like Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson saying, ‘I want to be here under Brad, and I want to be a Celtic.’ There’s probably seven or eight guys I could name that had career years under Brad, because he brings the best out of people. And free agents are choosing to come here, and in part that has to be because of Brad. So, Brad’s our guy and we’re thrilled to have him.
Q. What were your impressions of the Orlando bubble?
A. I thought the bubble was a major accomplishment. I thought it showed everybody that if you test, wear masks, and stay distant, you can limit COVID to practically nothing. I thought the quality of play of the teams was really high.
We were two games away from the Finals. I think we had a really legitimate chance to get to the Finals and I’m really frustrated that we didn’t make it. We got beat fair and square by Miami, but I think we had a good chance. But credit to them. I’m not doing what Philly did a few years ago when they said, ‘We lost but we were the better team.’ I’m not saying that. I’m saying we had a chance to beat Miami and so we’re going to go back hard this year and see if we can do better.
Q. Now the league is restarting and there is no bubble. The virus is raging and there are new concerns and hurdles to clear. What concerns do you have about this return with more risk involved?
A. The protocols are 158 pages of testing and restrictions on what you can do and where you can go when you’re not in team activities. Everybody’s bought into a pretty strict system. So I’m hopeful that we can play safely and put the Celtics on the floor, and I’m especially hopeful with vaccines coming that we can get fans back in and start supporting the local businesses around the Garden, which really does mean a lot.
Q. There have already been frequent cancellations in college basketball due to COVID-19. The NFL has had to push back games. Are you bracing for this being the reality?
A. The NFL is getting through it. We’re in close contact with them. We are bracing. We are prepared. We only announced the first half of the schedule so we could make up games in the second half as needed. We reduced travel by 25 percent. We’re going to try to give it a good, NBA-style effort. The bubble was to the max, and it worked. This is going to be different, but it’s the same minds at the NBA league offices that are putting it together and I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to give this a pretty good shot.
Q. You mentioned bringing fans back eventually. It’s hard to have definitive answers with any of this because of the changing nature of the situation, but how do you envision that scenario playing out?
A. We’re in daily contact with the governor and lieutenant governor’s office, the mayor’s office, the Garden, the Bruins, and we are doing everything we can to safely get fans back in the building. It’s hard to say when that’s going to be, but it’s top of mind. It’s what the players want and what we want, but it also supports businesses and it means the world is coming back to normal when the fans are in the stands.
There’s a lot of work going on, a lot of planning, a lot of flexibility. We’re hoping to have fans back in the reasonably near future. The vaccine could be a big part of that, and distancing, and testing. But we’re going to do everything we can.
Q. Where does this team need to improve?
A. Knockdown shooting beat us, among other things. But one way to look at the conference finals was they just made a ton of shots. So we drafted a couple of shooters, a couple of playmakers. Rebounding, we added a really good rebounder with Tristan [Thompson]. But generally this was a little bit of a case of just keeping it rolling. We re-signed Jayson and believe we can win if we keep this crew together. We believe this is a winning franchise on the way up.
The only time I won, everybody was like 33 years old. Now, everybody seems to be about 23 years old. So the future is bright around here. I think we’ve got a run ahead of us if we keep this team together.