ISTANBUL — It seems the quest to recapture Ubuntu began long before the Celtics arrived in the land of the Ottoman Empire, surrounded by centuries of history and rich culture, a place that many of the Celtics plan to explore over the next few days.
While this trip to Istanbul and Milan will aid in galvanizing a team with nine new players, the search for Ubuntu — the team’s philosophy of unity — began at the Waltham practice facility when veterans and rookies blended together for intense pickup games in August and September.
It could be months before these Celtics approach the level of chemistry that Doc Rivers’s previous teams had, but there is a consensus that the 2012-13 bunch is off to a positive start. After the Celtics endured a plethora of injuries and a putrid first half last season, and Ray Allen revealed a seemingly irreparable rift with Rajon Rondo in June, it seemed that the message of Ubuntu had slipped.
While undoubtedly one of the league’s closer teams over the past five years, the Celtics feel that reaffirming their commitment to each other may be what catapults them to the pinnacle after failing to win a championship since 2008.
“As a team, you don’t think you lose it, but you may have individuals who may mess up Ubuntu, not follow Ubuntu as much as the next man does,” Rondo said.
“We’ve had a close family since then. You can say ’08 because we won, but each year since I’ve been here, we’ve had a close team. We’ve just got to do a better job of sacrificing on and off the court, being better followers.
“We have a lot of strong ego guys that at times may not want to follow or may not know when to get coached, so it’s just being a better listener and being more positive with your teammates.”
Rondo has been accused of being moody and abrasive with teammates over the years, and he freely acknowledges a desire to change that perception.
“I learn every day, I’m still learning now, in my seventh year,” he said. “It’s something you don’t take for granted. I think Kevin [Garnett] and Paul [Pierce] are still learning. And they’re 15 and 17 years in. From a young to an old guy, there is something you can learn every day.”
With the Celtics shuttling headstrong veterans such as Rasheed Wallace, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, and Delonte West in and out the past few years, the message of Ubuntu may have been lost in translation.
“You have a new team now,” Pierce said. “You have four or five players from a year ago, and it’s up to us to implement the new guys, to help them understand the kind of culture we have around here, the team concept, what it means to be a Celtic.
“In order to do that, we’re going to need one another. So we’re going to build, we’re going to keep building. [Ubuntu] has been a little inconsistent. It’s tough when you have a lockout last year, no full training camp, you don’t have a lot of practices, you’ve got to kind of go on the fly.
“It’s a lot better now we’re in training camp, we’re in Turkey, we have a lot of time together and we can just build that.”
Rivers won’t say his teams lost Ubuntu, but he has felt differently in various seasons regarding how his players would blend and interact. He said the 2011-12 team eventually jelled for a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“A lot of the guys are veterans,” said Rivers. “I mean, Jason Terry came here because of [team chemistry]. So did Courtney Lee. The young guys have to learn basketball first. I like this team.
“Last year I thought that team had to earn [Ubuntu] and they did. By midseason, they were saying it. I thought that team at the end of the year was as close of a team as we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Terry is already bonding with his teammates and has already made an agreement to retire together with Pierce, as the two are the same age.
Terry sought the opportunity to play with the Celtics, with the team’s chemistry and togetherness well-known throughout the league.
“You know, my Celtic Way has been hiding for so long, I’m just happy to be back so I can pull it out,” he said. “If Dallas was tight, this is vise grip. This is a unique situation. This is one that every player who is beyond 10-plus years in the league, it’s a situation you want to come into.”