The Globe caught up with Celtics co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Robert Epstein before Tuesday’s game against the Raptors. They discussed this important summer, coach Brad Stevens’s emergence, and what would make this a successful postseason:
First off, what have the past few months been like as you’ve watched this team’s growth?
Epstein: The reign of Isaiah [Thomas]? Obviously it’s been a remarkable difference since he’s come along. Isn’t Brad trying to lobby for him for the sixth man award? In terms of somebody impacting a team, he’s got to be right up there with everybody.
Have you sensed a new excitement, a different energy?
Grousbeck: I got excited around the team when Brad came, honestly. I was really hopeful we had found a guy that could get a team to play together and play this hard. I didn’t know it would happen this quickly or that he’d be able to get that done. But I think of Brad first when I think of why this team is playing well.
He’s getting a lot of national recognition now, from his set plays to his calm demeanor that players have gravitated toward. What’s impressed you?
Grousbeck: He is calm, but inside he’s got a lot of emotion. When you travel with Brad, you’re on the bus or the plane, you see a little more of it. I just think he’s got that effortless command. People want to follow him, follow his lead. He’s a natural leader.
When have you seen that emotion? He stays so calm in front of us.
Grousbeck: Well, we’ve had a few. I heard he lit the players up pretty well at one halftime and then he later apologized, and they said, ‘Don’t be sorry.’ So, I just find Brad to be a natural leader, not in a fiery style, but in a capable, intelligent style that I really respect.
Epstein: By the way, he wasn’t just discovered, either. I think they knew about him in the college ranks. Maybe he’s been discovered as a pro coach, but he was right up at the top echelon as a college coach.
You mentioned Isaiah. What have you thought of the boost he has brought this team?
Epstein: He’s played remarkable. I think if you listen, the fans are just waiting for him to get in the game and start popping shots. And he delivers. I particularly like him, because it’s the first time we’ve had a player that’s eyeball-to-eyeball with me. I’ve had that discussion with him actually.
Grousbeck: I’ve heard he actually says he wants to be the best 5-9 player in NBA history. He points out that Allen Iverson was 6 feet. I love him. I love his spirit. We’ve got him for three more years at least, but we’ve got building blocks in place here, young players for multiple years, and we’re gonna try to keep this group together and add to it over the summer and keep moving forward.
What is the approach heading into the summer? It’s obviously fluid, but what’s the mind-set?
Grousbeck: Well, we’ve got a lot of draft picks. Those could be traded. We’ve got a lot of room. Over the next few years, we’ll have a lot of room under the salary cap. Our intention is always to be aggressive and opportunistic in the summer. We don’t want to let a summer go by. The summer of 2007 transformed this franchise, and you never know when the next one will happen.
Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have both made it clear that the progress has been nice, but they’re not yet where they want to be.
Epstein: There’s a much bigger goal. Getting in the playoffs, we’ll see how long we last. But still, the goal is always to win the championship.
Have you reached this point faster than you thought you might would?
Grousbeck: Well, if you asked me at the All-Star break, I didn’t think we’d be in the playoffs. I’m really proud of the way we’ve played since the All-Star break. Our record is really a pretty good record over the last couple months. There’s Celtic pride out on the floor. We’re not the most talented team in the league. We’ll be matching up against one of the two or three most talented teams in the league in the first round of the playoffs, whoever it is. We’ll just have to see what we can bring, see what we can do.
The feedback I get from readers is that this team isn’t elite yet, but they’re really fun to watch, they love playing together and they love their chemistry. Do you see that?
Epstein: I think it’s great fun. I’ve had more fun at home games in the last couple months than I have for the last couple years.
Grousbeck: I think it’s electric. We’re selling games out again. We’ve got people going crazy. We lose a game or two here and there, and the fans are still right behind the team. Walking over to the Garden tonight, all the way across town, it was horns honking, people waving saying, ‘Thanks for this team.’ They’re something special.
How would you gauge success in the postseason?
Epstein: Certainly, learning how to win, I think. That’s a very important, critical piece. And finish games. They’re finishing games now. That was one of our problems earlier in the season, and now they’re finishing games.
Grousbeck: One of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had is having a road win in the playoffs. If they could go on the road this coming weekend wherever they go and somehow steal a game — and it would be stealing, because we’d be heavy underdogs—if we could steal a game wherever we play, that feeling is something the players can build on, quieting a crowd and walking off with a victory. We’re only in the first round, so we’re gonna learn from every second of it. And Brad is a great teacher.
Moving forward, how do you continue this momentum and make sure it doesn’t flatten?
Grousbeck: We’re going to have Brad here. We’re going to have our young core here, they’re all under multiyear contracts. And Danny will be here, and we will be here and the fans will be here, and we’re going to keep this rolling as long as we can.
Hey, so breaking news then, you’re not selling the team?
Grousbeck (laughs): Absolutely not.