LAS VEGAS — There is a consensus among the four Celtics players on Team USA’s FIBA World Cup roster — they can’t wait for next season to start. But for the three players on the FIBA roster who are returning from the 2018-19 Celtics share another sentiment — they are looking forward to playing with Kemba Walker.
“I’m just excited,” Jayson Tatum said here Thursday at Team USA’s practice session at the Mendenhall Center on the UNLV campus. “We’ve got a good team, it’s a new season, everybody’s kind of ready to just get going. Last year didn’t finish how we wanted, so it makes guys hungry and excited for next season.”
— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) August 8, 2019
Walker joined the Celtics this offseason as a part of a sign-and-trade with the Hornets in which Boston sent Terry Rozier to Charlotte and Walker made his way to Boston. He promptly signed a four-year, $140 million deal with the Celtics and will be taking over the point guard spot left vacant by Kyrie Irving, who went to the Nets in free agency.
No Celtics player would say a bad word about Irving, but they are eager to turn over a new leaf going into next season.
“We’re going to be positive,” Jaylen Brown said. “Last year, I can’t say it can be any worse than that, so coming out and being positive is everybody’s mindset.”
The Celtics were picked to win the Eastern Conference one season after going 55-27, finishing second in the East and losing in seven games in the conference finals to LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Things didn’t work out the way they planned though in 2018-19 as Boston slid to 49-33, fourth in the East and lost in the second round to the Bucks, narrowly averting a sweep.
“I think on the outside — because there’s not much to talk about for two months in the summer — that’s kind of been a consistent story, and, you know, on the inside we moved on past it a long time ago,” coach Brad Stevens told NBC Sports Boston on Wednesday. “And so it’s been a great vibe in our building, we have a great group of workers.
“Jaylen and Jayson are here (in Las Vegas), but they were in Boston last week working all the way up until this point. Obviously we’ve had a ton of our young guys through, we turned that page a long time ago and that’s what you should do after a season. I mean, I think whether you had success or it wasn’t as good as you want, you learn from it and move on.”
Brad Stevens on last season: ‘We’ve moved on past it a long time ago, and so it’s been a great vibe in our building’ pic.twitter.com/aVLDnLQmPh
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) August 8, 2019
Walker didn’t have to deal with the disappointment in Boston’s locker room last season. His disappointment has been Charlotte missing the playoffs in six of his eight seasons on the roster. Despite that, Walker made the Hornets his priority in free agency but simply couldn’t get a deal done with the team that drafted him. He has always stated his love for the city of Charlotte and Hornets fans and for his teammates and the organization, but it ultimately turned out it was time for him to move on.
But loyalty like that —and a more talkative manner than new Celtics teammate Marcus Smart expected — already has endeared Walker to his new running mates. And while the four Celtics teammates have only had so much time to develop relationships, it sounds like it’s off to a good start.
“We talked a little bit about basketball, but mostly just getting to know each other,” Smart said. “Knowing things that we probably didn’t know about one another and just laughing and joking and building that camaraderie up.”
— NBA (@NBA) August 6, 2019
Walker echoed Smart’s sentiments, but he made it clear he still has a way to go before he’ll be guaranteeing any titles in Boston’s future.
“I’m the new guy, they already know each other, so it’s just kind of really me and getting acclimated to them and how things go,” Walker said.
The Celtics will once again be one of the favorites for a high playoff seed in the East this season and the addition of Walker — and, the Celtics hope, the continued improvement of Gordon Hayward — will go a long way in making that happen.
Boston’s success though could start here in Las Vegas and further on in September in China at the FIBA World Cup. Every second these four men spend on the court together can only help going forward even if they are in a different system than the one Stevens runs with the Celtics.
But as Smart will tell you, these teammates will take every moment they can get with each other.
“It’s tremendous for us because not a lot of guys get to do this,” Smart said. “Not a lot of guys, not a lot of teams have more than two or three guys out and just working with each other even before the season started.
“I think that gives us a little step up on other guys.”