It's that time of year again, where Boston Celtics legends are born and killed, with training camp heroes emerging before a single meaningful minute of basketball is played.
Training camp isn't all bluster and hyperbole, however, and there's plenty of useful information to be learned in the tune-ups prior to the start of the season. Offseason conditioning, potential lineup combinations and roster spot battles are all hot topics this time of year.
These stories are even more frequent this season, with so many new faces fighting for playing time under a coach making his pro debut. Brad Stevens has a steep challenge ahead of him, so early returns on his transition to the NBA are of interest as well.
So what's the word?
Stevens Maniacal about Defense
A hallmark of recent Celtics teams was their ability to suffocate opposing teams on offense. Ex-coach Doc Rivers paired with defensive minds like Tom Thibodeau to devise aggressive schemes that took advantage of his personnel.
Coaches and players have been filing in and out of town, but according to Marc D'Amico of Celtics.com and Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News, defense is still at the forefront of the conversation.
The Celtics lost defensive savant Kevin Garnett this offseason, which creates a massive hole in the middle that must be filled. Without a clear one-to-one replacement for The Big Ticket, the entire team must be fundamentally sound to account for the skill gap.
Stevens has not minced words when it comes to his vision for his defense. He told Jay King of MassLive.com that the Celtics will employ tactics used by the league's top units:
We’re going to have a man-oriented system, man with zone principles, not that much dissimilar from some of the better teams in the league defensively, what they try to do. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be there, it doesn’t mean we’re a long way from being there, but from a technical and tactical standpoint that will be a big emphasis – creating that identity.
Someone is going to have to lead the charge for this unit. Who could that be?
Brandon Bass, Defensive Leader?
Having played alongside Garnett for the past two seasons, Brandon Bass has a good idea of what it takes to lead a defense.
It's a challenge he has fully embraced, and the confidence he has in himself has not gone unnoticed by teammates:
This year I can be myself, and I think that being vocal and more of a defensive-minded player is something I’ve grown into. I think I’ve got to be the one who just takes that first step in leadership on defense and being vocal and just having a defensive mindset.
Avery Bradley said, "If you look at when KG was here, it rubbed off on Brandon. Now it can rub off from Brandon to other guys."
Some have clamored for Bass to be shopped on the open market, but he might be enough of a difference-maker on defense that the Celtics feel they need to hang onto him.
Jared Sullinger Ahead of Schedule; Kris Humphries in "Elite" Shape
Veteran-laden teams are prone to starting off seasons slow, preferring to save their legs for the spring and early summer, when they hope to be making a run to the NBA Finals.
Young teams, on the other hand, look to hit the ground running. In order to do that, everyone has to be in peak physical condition. A couple of Celtics are ahead of schedule in that regard.
The news regarding Jared Sullinger is especially encouraging considering the health obstacles the young forward has had to overcome to work his way back to the court. Coach Stevens told Marc D'Amico he was happy about his progress:
Jared’s come a long way from the first time I saw him work out, which was in early, early August or so after he was cleared to do full contact drills in just a one-on-one setting… I was pleasantly surprised at his motor today, because I thought it was really good.
There's another Celtic who showed up to camp ready to roll, but it's his demeanor rather than his conditioning that has fans and pundits taking notice.
Jeff Green Ready to Shoulder the Load
It's hard to believe Jeff Green is only 27 years old, because it seems like people have been predicting he was on the verge of breaking out for quite some time now. Major health issues and the natural process of figuring out his role in the league have hindered Green from making the leap many think he's capable of.
But Green told Boston Globe columnist Baxter Holmes that he's finally ready for the spotlight:
Bring it on. It’s a challenge that I’m willing to take on.
I’m not looking to fill the footsteps of Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. What they’ve done is in the books. My job is to now create my own footprints and be the best player I can be and not try to live up to anyone’s standards.
My game is to get to the free-throw line at least eight times a game. I want to be aggressive.
That final proclamation is bold, in and of itself. To achieve that figure, Green would have to more than double his current free-throw attempt average of 3.2. For a player who has admitted to being tentative at times, his lofty goal is encouraging and shows he isn't content with just being good enough to get by.
His serious heath concerns hopefully behind him, Green is poised to finally maximize his tantalizing array of skills.