Sometime after last Thursday night’s NBA Draft ended, Grant Williams received an Instagram direct message from his new Celtics teammate, Carsen Edwards.
“Let’s be friends?” Edwards asked, including an emoji of a waving hand for effect.
Of course, Williams, the 22nd overall pick, wanted to be friends with fellow draftee Edwards, the 33rd overall selection. But they were not alone. Boston also grabbed Romeo Langford with the 14th selection and Tremont Waters with the 51st. Williams wanted to be sure they were included, too.
So he created a group direct message chain that quickly morphed into a group text chain. And just like that, a draft class of Celtics who have yet to even play a game together started to form the kind of bond that seemed to be lacking on last year’s Boston team.
“You can love who you’re playing with,” Williams explained Monday, standing in a quiet area of the Auerbach Center as Edwards completed his news conference nearby. “When you love playing with each other, you cheer each other on, and then you give each other a little more intensity.
“So having those relationships off the court is great, and that’s something I love to establish, and I know these guys want to establish as well. It’s nice to have a group of guys that really want to be around each other.”
The four draft picks all arrived Sunday in Boston, and it did not take them long to reconvene. Williams hopped onto the group text to let the others know he was in town, and Edwards and Waters soon responded that they were, too. (Langford was on a late flight and did not get to Boston until after midnight.)
Then they had a group FaceTime chat, and Williams was a bit antsy. He asked the others if he should set up one of the two video game systems he’d brought with him.
“He was like, ‘Do you want to play games?’ ” Edwards recalled, smiling. “And I’m like, ‘Dude, I just got here.’ He’s like, ‘I play board games, too.’
“It’s just stuff you don’t expect. But he’s a really good dude. And I’m excited to be around him and get to know him more as a person.”
They decided it was too late to have a gaming session. But before long, the conversation switched to their big day Monday. They talked about what they planned to wear to their news conferences.
Williams had a suit made to wear in the green room at the NBA Draft last week, but then the league did not invite him, so he decided to wear it to the Auerbach Center instead. Waters told his new teammates he would go with a more understated look.
“He said he was going to wear his loafers, because he said he’s more casual swag,” Williams said with a chuckle. “But we just kept talking about what we were going to do here the next day, and the day after that.”
Of course, just because some young players become good friends does not mean that they will start helping their new team win basketball games. But after a disappointing season was marred by finger-pointing and combustion, it is clear that Boston’s brass has put added value on character and cohesion as it tries to reestablish the culture that previously existed under coach Brad Stevens.
“I think it just makes life more enjoyable when everybody is humble, hard-working, and will play any role they have to to help the team succeed,” president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said.
“You do have to have a certain amount of talent to win in our league, as we all know, but good people makes coming to work more fun.”
Williams said he is eager to branch out beyond this draft class, too. He is hopeful that he will be able to speak with teammates such as Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Gordon Hayward soon. Williams and Tatum are both very close friends with Kings forward Harry Giles, and he said Giles has already introduced them via group text.
The new players, meanwhile, will have plenty of time to strengthen their bond in the coming weeks.
They will take part in practices at the Auerbach Center next week before departing to play in the Las Vegas summer league.
Even though they do not know each other that well yet, they are quite familiar with each other’s skills. Williams and Waters faced off in the SEC for two seasons, and Edwards and Langford met in the Big Ten and were teammates on a USA basketball team.
“We all have great personalities,” Waters said. “We’re open. I’m a people person, and they are too. We’re just being ourselves.”