WALTHAM – Media day for the 2013-2014 Boston Celtics came and went Monday without much fanfare. While SportsCenter gave us live check-ins with the defending champion Miami Heat, the Celtics quietly gave us a lot of what we already knew.
We learned players were excited to work with new coach Brad Stevens, and Rajon Rondo would need some time to recover from knee surgery. There was a noticeable void of "spirit", for lack of a better word, without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the building, but we probably already knew that, too.
Outside of a visibly shaken Gerald Wallace, the players said all the right things Monday, affirming their commitment to winning and denying any possibility that the process could fail. Considering training camp starts Tuesday, it's hard to argue with the optimism. The team hasn't even held an official scrimmage yet. Celtics staffers set the clock to 18:18 with a score of 18 all to signify the team's quest for an 18th championship.
"I don't really pay attention to what the media said or what anybody said about me," Rondo said when asked about lowered expectations for the team.
Rondo's us-against-the-world sentiment was echoed by just about every player, but Wallace was a notable outlier. He spent his summer at home in Alabama, he said, processing the draft-day trade that sent him from the Brooklyn Nets to the Celtics. Understandably, Wallace said he wanted to spend time with his kids. Rather than work out with his new teammates, Wallace said he passed many hours playing cards with friends and family around the kitchen table. Coming to Boston wasn't an issue, he said, but the trade that sent him from a contender to a rebuilding team was a surprise.
"Being traded is a process nobody likes to go through," said Wallace."This trade kind of caught me off guard. You kind of sit back and look at yourself and wonder what happened.
"There's always a period where it's tough, especially coming from a playoff team where we were completing for a championship, and then coming here and starting the process all over again."
Admitting the team is starting over will not be easy for Celtics fans used to extended playoff runs. It's one thing to acknowledge Pierce and Garnett are gone; it's another to admit the team cannot possibly replace the production of two Hall-of-Fame-locks in one offseason, that it's bound to get a lot worse before it gets better. Celtics owner Steve Pagliuca was cautiously optimistic Monday about the future of the franchise.
"We'll see what happens," said Pagliuca. "Ten years ago, we were in much worse shape than we are now. It's hard. You have to be patient and you have to build young assets. I think we're way ahead of the first rebuild."
Pagliuca was referring to the current ownership group taking over the team a decade ago. Outside of Pierce and Antoine Walker, the Celtics were not exactly stocked with young talent. Pagliuca pointed to the nine first-round picks the Celtics hold in the next five years as reason to be optimistic. It was hard to find an endorsement in there for 2013-2014.
Ownership's message has been consistent. Last week on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich program, team president Rich Gotham admitted the team wasn't likely to win many games this season. He said he hoped the fan experience at TD Garden would keep the fans coming, even if the team struggled. Gotham stood just behind the media scrum Monday as Rondo spoke, nodding when his point guard stayed on message. If there's anyone who can handle himself with the media it's Rondo, though he veered off once, not offering a hard denial about the trade rumors that have surrounded him for years.
"Whatever the case may be, whenever that may happen, that's what will happen," said Rondo. "But until then, I'm a Celtic, and I'll play as hard as I can for this organization."
Ownership's message strikes at the core of what fandom really is. A week or so before my grandfather passed away last month, he asked me how the Celtics were shaping up. He'd been sick, but he read about the Pierce/Garnett trade and knew that my job was going to change significantly. Worried more about the enjoyment I got from covering the team more than the team's success directly, he asked if the Celtics would be any good this year. Too early to tell, I said, but it's probably going to be a little while. He was my biggest fan, and I knew he was going to read anyway.
But what about the fans paying for tickets, the fans choosing to watch Celtics games instead of Bruins games, the fans choosing to delve into the box score rather than read another article about yesterday's big Patriots win? Ownership seems resigned to letting the process play out, but that's a harder sell to the paying customers. Stevens will need time, and Rondo won't be back for a while. It's too early to pass judgment on these Celtics – camp hasn't even started yet – but it's not too early to ask what will happen if the team fails to match its recent success. How long until the fans stop coming?
"There's a couple spots open in the Eastern Conference to make a playoff push," said Jordan Crawford, bristling at the notion that anyone could pick against his team.
You have to admire the optimism, and you have to like the position Danny Ainge has put this team in for the future. You also have to acknowledge that it's not going to be easy or quick. Like with this year's Red Sox, a contending season would be a pleasant surprise. Celtics fans will enjoy the ride more if they temper their expectations.
WALTHAM – Guard Rajon Rondo discussed at length his relationship with new Celtics coach Brad Stevens during the team's media day Monday afternoon. Rondo said he was impressed when Stevens showed up at Rondo's basketball camp in Kentucky earlier this summer. The two have had lunch, text nightly, and regularly share books and YouTube videos over email.
"Me and Brad have become best friends," said Rondo. "We talk every day, we laugh and joke. We just had dinner the other night. I'm going to help him, he's going to help me.
"He has my full support. I told him from Day 1 when he came to my camp that I'm behind him 100 percent. Whatever he wants to do, whatever he wants to change, I have an open mind. I'm ready to listen and to be accountable for what he wants to do."
Rondo dodged questions about his recovery from ACL surgery Monday, telling reporters only that he planned to return sometime in the 2013-2014 season. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said last week he expected Rondo to be out until at least December.
Asked about the departures of Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, Rondo was unemotional.
"It wasn't difficult at all," said Rondo. "I didn't feel anything. I actually landed in LA the night of the draft. I had 45 text messages come through the phone. I thought I was traded.
"It's not the first teammates that I've been close to who were traded away -- Perk, Tony Allen. It's part of the process. This is a fresh start for us, a new coach and a new team. I'm excited about the fresh start."
Rondo did not dismiss the possibility that he would be traded someday. Ainge said Monday that the Celtics roster was still a work in progress.
"Those are things that are out of my control," said Rondo. "I don't tend to worry about those things.I have to live my life. Whatever the case may be, whenever that may happen, that's what will happen. But until then, I'm a Celtic, and I'll play as hard as I can for this organization."
Rondo has been riding the stationary bike (he called the bike, along with Stevens, his "best friend"). Rondo has been working on his free throw shooting and ball handling, but said he has not yet been able to resume full contact basketball or scrimmages.
“I would love to say something, but it’s a legal matter now,” said Sullinger. “When that court date comes, we’ll have a distraction that day, but for now I’m just focused on basketball.”
On the court, Sullinger is recovering after offseason back surgery. The second-year forward out of Ohio State said returning to game action was not imminent.
“Not close,” Sullinger said of his return to competitive basketball. “Being out for six months of not playing basketball is really tough. It’s been a long year for me, from playing to back surgery, just trying to get healthy from there. Everything looks perfect as of now, but still got a lot of work to do.”
Sullinger said he had no limitations on the court, that he can play at full speed, and that he’s able to take charges and do anything else he could before.
“As of right now it’s just getting in the best shape possible,” said Sullinger. “I just think it’s time, with training camp, practicing every day. Only time can tell.”
Danny Ainge said he would be "shocked" if Celtics' All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (knee) is healthy enough to play by the team's Oct. 30 regular season opener and hinted that Rondo may not be ready until December.
When asked when Rondo, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament last season, might return to action, Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations, said a timeline is unclear. Ainge hinted in a radio interview at a potential December return for Rondo.
"I don’t think we would ever succumb to the pressure of bringing back a player from an ACL too soon," Ainge said Tuesday before the Shamrock Foundation's sixth annual Teeing up For Kids Golf Tournament at Wollaston Golf Club.
"We’ve got to do what’s right for him. He’s young (27); maybe if he was 37 and it was his last year, but he’s still so young. And he’s our best player. We can’t afford to make any mistakes and judgment on when to bring him back."
Ainge said he and Celtics coach Brad Stevens have been in "constant contact" with Rondo as the team prepares to open up training camp next week in Newport, R.I. Rondo will be at training camp, watching and helping the younger players while also doing rehab.
"He seems to be in a really good place, emotionally, mentally," Ainge said, "and now we’re just trying to get the physical part done -- and he’s got a ways to go."
Rondo was diagnosed with a torn ACL Jan. 27 after suffering the injury a few days earlier in a double-overtime loss to Atlanta. He had knee surgery in mid-February, performed by Dr. James Andrews, and Rondo has spent the summer rehabbing.
"I’ve told (Rondo) from day one, 'Come back when you’re ready,'" Stevens said. "I think it’s really important that he feels good when he’s back and ready to play."
Stevens said he wasn't sure who would fill in for Rondo at the point guard position in the meantime, but the only name he mentioned was Avery Bradley, who played that position for much of last season after Rondo suffered his injury.
"I don’t know exactly how we’ll progress from here as far as that goes with regard to, if Rajon is in, who’s in what role, but I know Avery will be on the court," Stevens said.
"I think he’s a guy that, when you look at him on both ends of the floor, he’s a guy that I think we can fit in well offensively at the point guard spot. I think he’s really excited about playing it. And then defensively, he can be elite."
The Celtics have spent the past few months paring down their roster to slice contracts and avoid the luxury tax and Tuesday they waived journeyman Donte Greene before he even appeared in a Boston uniform.
The forward, acquired Aug. 15 from the Memphis Grizzlies for center Fab Melo, had a nonguaranteed deal entering this season and lopping off his $1 million salary lowers the Celtics until the luxury tax threshold, considered a must by ownership for a team not expected to reach the playoffs.
The Celtics now have 14 guaranteed contracts on their roster and have four players -- Chris Babb, Damen Bell-Holter, DeShawn Sims, Kammron Taylor -- headed to training camp. Greene is a former first-round pick of the Sacramento Kings who played four seasons there before being unsigned last season. He joined Memphis near the end of the season but never played a game with the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies have since waived Melo, who accepted a training camp invitation from the Dallas Mavericks. The Celtics are now paying out $71.2 million in salaries, $200,000 under the luxury tax threshold.
SPRINGFIELD -- John Havlicek has always been a big Paul Pierce fan and was saddened to see the all-time great Celtics leaving the club two months ago in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Pierce played 15 seasons with Boston and is the franchise's second all-time leading scorer, trailing only Havlicek.
"Well I think he wanted to (stay) but circumstances changed and he was able to sort of give himself another shot (at a championship) so you can't blame him for that," the all-time great Celtic said after the Hall of Fame ceremonies Sunday. "It's like Bill Sharman years ago, left the Celtics and became a Laker of all things. So I wish (Pierce) will and hopes that he gets that ring."
Havlicek said Pierce ranks highly among the Celtics' greats.
"That's what free agency does, it doesn't allow you to have that continuity," Havlicek said about Pierce's departure. "We never made a trade in 10 years (with the Celtics) and all the people remained the same. It's a lot different today but I wish him well. He's one of the best all-around players and the thing I marveled at was his one-on-one ability. I think he's the best one-on-one player of all Celtics."