About a half-hour after the Celtics’ practice ended on Thursday afternoon, Grant Williams and Marcus Smart casually chatted as Smart launched 3-pointers from the right corner. There was nothing unusual about the scene.
But a bit earlier, when the session was closed to media, the two weren’t quite as cordial. Robert Williams revealed with a chuckle that the two teammates had a confrontation during the team’s full-court scrimmage, after Smart accused Williams of flopping on defense.
Smart, of course, is known for his own flops. But he seemed to take offense at this attempt.
“You know how it goes, man,” Williams said. “[Grant Williams] felt like he ain’t flop. We felt like he flopped. But like I said, it’s better to get that [stuff] out now than when we play against other people.”
Robert Williams said it was just a verbal altercation and never escalated beyond that. But to him and several others, it served as an example of how fiery, intense, and competitive this group could become. If players are getting this revved up by scrimmages with teammates, imagine what it will feel like when LeBron James comes to town.
“Nobody’s taking [crap], you know?” Robert Williams said. “Everybody’s out there battling.
“So I just like the competitive energy from everybody. It’s not ‘OK, well you’re this player, so I’m going to let you do this.’ Nah, everybody’s coming to [claim their spot].”
Guard Josh Richardson, who was acquired in a trade with the Mavericks this summer, said the Celtics’ training camp sessions remind him of his time in Miami, where he spent his first four NBA seasons.
“The competitive spirit is great for sure,” Richardson said. “I kind of like it when it gets chippy like that. I think it’s good for our team, and for my whole life I’ve known the guys you get in a fight with normally come out on the other end closer. I think it’s good for us and good for our growth.”
Former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge typically put an emphasis on adding tough, competitive players, and Brad Stevens showed during his first offseason in this new post that he may have a similar mind-set, bringing in veterans Richardson and Dennis Schröder.
This is one of Boston’s deepest teams in years. Head coach Ime Udoka has said about 12 players are candidates to be in the nightly rotation, but he will most often use 9-10, so the competition to earn those slots has created some added energy during training camp. Also, Boston has a new coaching staff, led by Udoka, so even longtime Celtics have a renewed desire to prove themselves.
“We already know we’ve got some dogs out there,” assistant coach Aaron Miles said. “That’s not even a question. Part of it is it’s a new season, a new coaching staff here, and a new way about doing things. So everybody’s excited. And some of it is it’s their nature. Having these dogs out there. The key is once we start playing that guys support one another on the floor, and really, genuinely sacrifice for one another and want to see each other succeed. I think that’s important.”
Miles, an assistant with the Warriors last season, said these early practices have been filled with battles. He started giving examples of players who play with real fire, and before he stopped, he had rattled off half of the roster.
So against that backdrop, sometimes there will be days when two players get into a shouting match about whether one of them was flopping during a scrimmage.
“We’re brothers, man,” Robert Williams said with a smile. “It’s going to happen every day, damn near.”