With these Celtics, there’s so much to like off the court, and so much to anticipate on it
You might remember when Kevin Garnett famously told us that anything is possible. Of course you remember. It was quite loud, quite emotional, and, 22 years after the Celtics previous championship, just about as cathartic as sports can be.
That’s the same feeling, but in a different place and context, than the one Celtics fans had Monday, when the NBA officially pressed the start button on the new season with its various league-wide media days. Remember this: KG’s proclamation came after the confirmation, in the delirious aftermath of the 2008 Celtics’ clinching victory over the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
The optimism Monday when the Celtics held their availability at High Output Studios in Canton (where they put together the video and digital snippets — Kyrie Irving dribbling, that sort of thing — you’ll see during game broadcasts) was of a different kind than KG’s that night more than 10 years ago.
At the season’s advent, we obviously don’t have the answer in advance before declaring anything is possible. But that does not dull the feeling or the hope. If anything, it increases the anticipation of what to come. Media day is when you can believe that LeBron James won’t want to punt Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson to the moon before the first half of the first game is over, that Jimmy Butler will someday learn to love Tom Thibodeau and become as beloved as Prince in Minnesota, and Ben Simmons won’t just shoot 3s but might actually make a few.
It’s a day of hope. Some of it is even realistic. And so when you hear Kyrie Irving refuse to back down from his stated belief that the Celtics can take the nasty, dynastic Warriors in a seven-game series, and then you see a posed picture of that star-studded, versatile, united-at-last starting five of Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Sports Illustrated’s 16th-best player in the NBA, Al Horford, well, who’s to say they can’t, good health willing?
We have so much here in New England to anticipate as sports fans — there’s always something fascinating on the horizon, whether it’s the 100-plus-win Red Sox’ pending postseason pursuit of a fourth championship this century, or watching to see whether Tom Brady and the Patriots will right their listing ship just like they always seem to do when the seas get rough.
But I must admit this: There is nothing I’m looking forward to more in the upcoming week or two than the Celtics’ preseason opener Friday night against in Chapel Hill, N.C. against the Hornets. I’ve been ready for this season to start pretty much since the last one ended in seven games in what was LeBron’s coda as a Cavalier. It is amazing in retrospect that a team missing Irving and Hayward came that close to taking down the Cavs. This new beginning will finally allow some of us to stop lamenting Jayson Tatum’s lack of touches in the final 4 minutes of Game 7. He could have seized the crown from the King, I tell you.
Of course the Celtics were not ready to begin again then — they needed Irving and Hayward and Daniel Theis to heal, for Marcus Smart to re-sign, for Danny Ainge to make minor adjustments to the roster (I’ll miss Shane Larkin, but can’t wait to see what Brad Wanamaker brings).
But man, are they ready now. Hayward, by all accounts, looks like his pre-injury self, and Monday he wryly noted that the Celtics young players have deeper playoff experience than he does . . . and Irving countered the Knicks’ attempts to will him onto their roster as a pending free-agent by talking about how happy he is . . . and Terry Rozier told us that Tatum has the “I’m the man” look in their pickup games (NBA TV should broadcast these) . . . and Marcus Morris revealed he nicknamed the deep bench BWA (“Bench With Attitude”) . . . and Brown said he’s improved his “free-throws, ballhanding, and playmaking for others,’’ . . . and Smart, the dig-down-deep spirit of this team, talked eloquently about how his teammates were there for him after his mom’s recent death.
There’s so much to like off the court, and so much to anticipate on it.
I suppose there needs to be disclaimer, that the long season can take its take its toll, that some accomplished players may not like their role. But the disclaimer is obligatory. The 2018-19 Celtics are loaded, and they know it.
Oh, and I almost forgot to say it, because it probably goes without saying anyway: Brad Stevens will be masterful in getting the most out of them.
The new season is on its way, and anything — all of the great things, the meaningful things, the this-is-what-we-play-for things — seems possible with this team. They may not collect that 18th banner to accompany the one that brought KG such joy 11 years ago. But they might. And knowing they can is a hell of a place to begin.