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Gary Washburn | on basketball

Celtics put the focus on building fellowship

The Celtics bench celebrates after Tacko Fall dunked the ball during the fourth quarter.Nic Antaya for the Globe

The one thing Celtics’ training camp is lacking is drama. The team development is moving along in workmanlike fashion as the roster shakes itself out with little suspense.

What suspense was present was mostly squelched Sunday when the club signed Tacko Fall to a two-way contract, so the 7-foot-5-inch center and fan favorite can continue his tutelage with the Celtics and in the G-League. That was pretty much the most intriguing story line of camp.

With Max Strus promoted to an NBA contract, the only roster issue remaining is whether he or free agent invitee Javonte Green take the 15th and final spot on the roster.


This is what training camp should feel like. The Celtics are not being picked by any prognosticator to win the Eastern Conference. Despite signing Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter, the Celtics are completely under the NBA radar.

They have been working on improvement, boosting morale and enhancing their chemistry. Their 118-72 preseason win over the outclassed Cleveland Cavaliers was their second exhibition win in less than 48 hours.

It seems that there has been less talk in training camp and more action. There definitely has been more camaraderie, players such as Jayson Tatum have reported to camp with a business-like approach.

And that should be the philosophy after last year’s disastrous ending to the season. The Celtics were embarrassed by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and moved on from several of the members from that team.

The results are turning out to be positive so far. Jaylen Brown and Tatum have both returned from their Team USA experience more mature and prepared to make consistent contributions. Gordon Hayward looks more athletic and confident than he did this time last year.

The center position is still a question but it seems Brad Stevens is going to play that by committee. Daniel Theis has looked impressive starting the past two games, while Robert Williams and Kanter have enjoyed their moments.


This has been exactly the type of training camp Stevens needed — quiet.

The Celtics didn’t embrace the favorite role well last season. Kyrie Irving was trying in vain to be a leader; Hayward was a shell of himself coming off his horrific leg injury while Brown, Tatum, and Terry Rozier each had eyes for bigger roles after their Eastern Conference finals run.

Tatum took responsibility for his uneven season after Friday’s preseason game in Orlando. He said working with Kobe Bryant didn’t stain his game. He placed too much pressure on himself to take that next step and fell into the trap of trying to be the star, not a star.

Tatum understands that he has to mesh well with Brown and Hayward. The Celtics have perhaps the most depth at power forward in the NBA. The trio of Brown, Tatum, and Hayward just has to learn how to work together better. For that purpose, Stevens has been starting all three during the preseason.

“We’re all versatile; we’re all alike but different,” Tatum said. “We’re going to play a lot together, so we’ve got to build that chemistry and find ways to be productive because we’re going to spend a lot of time on the floor together.”

Brown got the late invite to Team USA and coach Gregg Popovich had him sacrifice at times, playing an undersized center with scoring less of a priority.


If you recall, Brown told the Globe around the All-Star break last season that the atmosphere around the team was “toxic.” He was right. But he doesn’t feel that way now.

“I am going to say the Team USA experience helped me.” he said. “I think when you’re in a situation like that where you’re around great coaches and that amount of talent I think the only thing you can do is to get better and learn from that environment. It’s a great environment to be in so, I feel like it is definitely helpful and hopefully we will be able to see it this season.”

There was too much infighting over roles last season, too many personal agendas, and that was evident from the beginning. The Celtics won 49 games in spite of themselves, winning most of the time strictly on talent. This Celtics team may be as talented, if not more, than last season’s, with better chemistry.

It’s premature to get excited about this Celtics team, but the one thing that’s been demonstrated so far is they like each other. Last season, it was a rarity for the bench to be standing up watching plays or to cheer vigorously when a teammate made a positive play.

This preseason, it seems the presence of Tacko Fall, who is beloved in Boston more than a good bowl of chowder, has put the Celtics mentally in a good place. They all want each other to do well and that wasn’t always the case last season. Those players went through the motions, gave them dap but inside felt like they could do better.


This team actually likes each other and that’s the most positive news coming out of camp so far.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.