For Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, recent years have been filled with discussions about change.
He has met with his small staff and discussed roster shifts, and he has stood in front of groups of reporters and been asked about turnover time and again.
And, to be sure, Ainge will never really be settled or content with his team, because there is always room for improvement somewhere. But this still feels different than the other recent versions.
The Celtics return their entire core from last season’s Eastern Conference finalist, including now-healthy former All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
Boston is favored to reach the NBA Finals, and the urgency to do that has seemingly lowered the urgency for seismic change that has hovered over this team recently. And that has Ainge feeling pretty good about things.
“I feel good about our roster,” Ainge said Wednesday evening. “We have a lot of depth, guys that can fill in. We showed the depth that we had last year and it could be even better this year. We have a deep roster, and I think we’re ready for anything.”
The Celtics had preliminary talks with the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard over the summer, but they balked when San Antonio made it clear it wanted a package centered on players rather than draft picks for the forward who will be a free agent at season’s end.
Disgruntled Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler has requested to be traded, and the Celtics attempted to acquire him earlier in his career. But this time, Boston has not been linked to him at all.
The Celtics, it seems, are about as settled as a team this side of the Warriors can be. There is a calm that comes from that, but there are also expectations. Ainge on Wednesday was asked what it feels like to have a team that, on most nights, will be expected to win.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “You know you’re not going to win them all. At the same time, you have a little room for error, too. You don’t have to be perfect in order to win.
“But I think it does come with it a responsibility that we are going to face better competition, night in and night out, and if they don’t know that when the season starts — I mean, they’ve certainly heard that, and they will hear it again. Internally they’ll hear that from the veteran players that have gone through it.”
If there is one lingering cause of concern — and Ainge on Wednesday playfully asked everyone to at least let him enjoy this year for a minute — it is the fact that Irving will be a free agent at season’s end.
For much of the summer, Irving, in interviews, was quite noncommittal about his future, almost distancing himself from the possibility of returning to Boston. But that tone has shifted over the past week or so, with him stating several times how fortunate he is to have such a good situation in Boston, and how silly he would be to leave it.
He has not committed — and there is no reason for him to do that now — but it has certainly been a shift that put Celtics fans’ nerves at ease. Ainge didn’t need to hear it, though.
“I’ve talked to Kyrie a lot,” he said. “Maybe he’s changed his tune with you, but he has been very positive from the day he got here. I talk to Kyrie all the time and his representation. I think Kyrie is very, very happy here in Boston. Always has been. And I think that we’ll hopefully make it a place that he’ll want to stay for much longer when the season ends.”
That end, of course, remains months away. As it stands, the biggest dilemma facing the Celtics might be finding ways to distribute playing time among so many talented players.
Surely, struggling teams such as the Hawks and Magic are shedding a tear over Boston’s conundrum.
“I think that sometimes you don’t get the exact role you want, game by game,” Ainge said, “but I think there’s enough to go around with this group. But the players need to make some sacrifice to be a great team. Every good team I’ve ever been on, there’s some that make more sacrifices than others when it comes to minutes and opportunities. So we’re no different than any other championship team. But this is the first time that, in Brad [Stevens’s] era, where we’ve had really high expectations as the season starts and this much depth.”