Here’s what to keep an eye on during Celtics camp
The Celtics’ wild and winding summer has finally come to a close, and now they can return to the mundane task of actually playing basketball games. After having media day in Canton on Monday, the team will depart for Newport, R.I., where it will hold the first three days of training camp practices at Salve Regina University.
Here are some story lines to watch as the preseason unfolds.
1.) What’s the starting lineup?
Point guard Kyrie Irving, forward Gordon Hayward, and forward/center Al Horford have all been All-Stars and they will be the anchors of this otherwise youthful roster. But there is an opening at shooting guard, as well as in the frontcourt.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has constantly preached about the value of positional versatility, and this roster has been assembled with that in mind. Plenty of combinations will be experimented with in the coming months.
The most likely options at shooting guard are either fourth-year ballhawk Marcus Smart — who is now the most-tenured Celtic — or athletic second-year wing Jaylen Brown.
Stevens has long preferred to bring Smart off the bench due to his ability to change the flow of a game with his tenacious play. He is an elite defender and a strong passer who is capable of being a primary ballhandler. One issue with having Smart as the shooting guard is that he has yet to prove that he can shoot: Last year he made just 28.3 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Brown, meanwhile, showed flashes of his potential as a rookie last season. He is a freakish athlete who seems to have the mechanics needed to develop into a good 3-point shooter. He was thrust into some important moments during last season’s playoffs, like when he defended LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals. At 6 feet 7 inches, he would also give the Celtics more length on the perimeter. The guess here is that Smart gets the nod, mostly because the Celtics are counting on third-year guard Terry Rozier to emerge as the main ballhandler in the second unit.
The center position is a little less tricky. Stevens’s most likely options are to start Horford alongside power forward Marcus Morris, or to go with the more traditional center Aron Baynes and slide Horford to his preferred power forward slot.
Morris’s abilities as a defensively versatile, 3-point shooting big man should make him the choice over Baynes. But, like last season, Stevens may very well swap lineups based on nightly matchups. A Horford, Morris, and Hayward frontcourt could have some issues gathering rebounds.
Regardless of the starting lineups, though, Stevens has made it clear he is more focused on his finishers.
2) Will Marcus Morris be here in time?
Morris is currently in Phoenix where he and his twin brother Markieff, who plays for the Wizards, are standing trial. The two are accused of being part of an assault against a former acquaintance in 2015.
The trial started last Monday and is expected to wind down this week. It appears likely that Morris will miss the start of training camp, and, if he is found guilty, he could face jail time. If he is found guilty but just receives probation, he would still face a minimum of a 10-game NBA suspension.
3) What about that open roster spot?
The Celtics were prepared to enter training camp with 16 players under guaranteed contracts, one above the maximum allowed at the start of the regular season. But after they traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic to Cleveland in exchange for Irving, it created an opening that has not yet been filled.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has said that the team’s preference is to keep the space open at the start of camp to maintain flexibility in case there is an injury. And at this point, there aren’t many obvious options left anymore, with free agents such as Andrew Bogut, Tony Allen, and Gerald Green having been scooped up by other teams. Forward Thomas Robinson, a good rebounder but poor offensive player, completed a workout with Boston last month and could be a possibility, but there is clearly no urgency for Boston.
4) How quickly can this team come together?
Rozier, a third-year guard who played just 17.1 minutes per game last year, is now the second most-tenured Celtic. With 11 new players, it will likely take some time for this group to mesh and fully grasp Stevens’s system. Most of the players arrived in Boston last week to complete some informal workouts together, and they have already made it clear that some speed bumps should be expected. But Stevens’s ability as a tactician combined with Horford’s on-court guidance should ultimately limit the missteps.
5) What player could develop a surprisingly important role?
Stevens praised rookie forward Semi Ojeleye multiple times in the summer. The burly second-round draft pick is a good 3-point shooter and a strong, versatile defender. He could have a role similar to Crowder’s, just with more limited minutes. Rookie forward Daniel Theis, who signed as a 25-year-old free agent this summer after playing in the Euroleague, is a high-energy player who will be intriguing to watch over the next few weeks.