The Celtics have been one of the NBA’s most consistent powers over the past decade, but a championship has remained elusive. They once again will enter a season among the favorites to win the title, and while their level of talent is undeniable, the roster reshuffling has altered the squad’s identity a bit.
For the first time since 2013, Marcus Smart will not be part of Celtics training camp. But the arrival of 7-foot-3-inch Kristaps Porzingis will give coach Joe Mazzulla new options. With camp set to open Tuesday, here are six things to watch during the preseason.
1. Porzingis’s foot
Porzingis missed Latvia’s World Cup appearance this summer because of plantar fasciitis. A league source insisted that he was erring on the side of caution with such an important season ahead, but it was still concerning considering his size and history of injuries.
Porzingis, who arrived in Boston last week, has been ramping up his on-court work and has not had any setbacks. He’s expected to be on the court at the start of camp, but plantar fasciitis can be pesky, so look for the Celtics to keep the big man’s workload light.
The Celtics know what they have in Porzingis; his health will be a priority at camp.
2. Roster battles
President of basketball operations Brad Stevens has taken a slightly different approach to filling up the back end of the roster by signing Dalano Banton, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Lamar Stevens to partially guaranteed contracts. This gives him flexibility as the Celtics monitor other moves around the league, while also creating some camp competitions.
The Celtics ultimately may enter the season with just 14 of their 15 regular roster spots filled, especially now that they have three two-way-contract players to fill in gaps. A league source said they had interest in bringing veteran Blake Griffin back for a second season, but he has yet to indicate that he plans to play this year.
Lamar Stevens is a below-average shooter but a very good defender, so his work at that end could help him secure a spot. Mykhailiuk is more of an instant-offense option, and Banton, a 6-9, 23-year-old point guard, probably has the most upside of the three.
3. Finding a lineup
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, and Porzingis will start, but the fifth spot feels more uncertain, with Al Horford and Robert Williams being compelling options. The obvious choice is Horford, who has started all 439 regular-season and playoff games he has played for the Celtics.
Horford, who connected on 44.6 percent of his 3-pointers last season, would help the spacing, and he remains a versatile defender who might be the team’s best communicator at that end following Smart’s departure. But he turned 37 in June, and the Celtics are aware of keeping him fresh for when he is needed most.
Williams, who has battled injuries much of his career, would form an intimidating defensive frontcourt alongside Porzingis while remaining a devastating lob threat, and Tatum has often said he likes sharing the court with Williams most of all.
The guess here is that Horford remains the starter, but that his overall playing time decreases. Regardless, both players will be essential.
4. Malcolm Brogdon’s mind-set
It’s been an odd stretch for Brogdon. He arrived in Boston last season, embraced his bench role, and became the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. Then a forearm injury and a forgettable conference finals appearance left a sour taste with him and the fan base, and in June he was nearly traded to the Clippers in the initial Porzingis deal before Los Angeles backed out.
Brogdon has been out of the public eye all summer, and there have been various reports about his frustration with the trade talks and how the Celtics handled his injury.
Stevens says Brogdon is healthy and ready for camp, and Brogdon has given no public indication that he’s upset with the team. But it’ll be interesting to hear his thoughts at media day Monday.
5. Finding a voice
Smart was the Celtics’ loud, focused, and urgent conductor at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. There’s a void that needs to be filled.
Several league sources said part of the reason Stevens decided to part ways with Smart was to allow Tatum and Brown to spread their wings as leaders and orchestrators. Both often deferred to Smart in big spots. Neither shrinks from the spotlight, but this is their year to truly seize command of the team. Also, having Horford around is a nice safety blanket.
6. Camp Mazzulla
Last year, Mazzulla was named interim coach following Ime Udoka’s suspension less than a week before training camp. It was sudden and stunning, and it left Mazzulla with almost no time to prepare for this high-profile post.
Now he has a full season of experience to lean on, and he’s had an entire offseason to get ready for what’s next. After relying on holdovers from Udoka’s tenure last year, he assembled his own coaching staff this summer, with former Bucks assistant Charles Lee and former 76ers assistant Sam Cassell stepping in as his two top lieutenants.
Mazzulla should be more comfortable and more willing to experiment, but he also will face more pressure now.