The Boston Celtics are off to a strong start this season at 12-4, and those in the locker room reportedly believe the departure of Kyrie Irving and arrival of Kemba Walker are big reasons why.
According to Jay King of The Athletic, sources close to the team have said that both the overall mood and atmosphere surrounding the Celtics have changed for the better. One source said it was "night and day," and another added, "You can feel it at all times."
Although Boston went 49-33 last season, the campaign was a disappointment since the Celtics were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs after reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals the previous year.
The roster never seemed to fully click despite the immense amount of talent on it, and the constant questions regarding whether Irving would re-sign or leave in free agency dominated headlines for much of the season as well.
Also, ESPN's Jackie MacMullan reported in May that Celtics players were "treading lightly" early last season because of Irving's "mood swings," which impacted chemistry and the feeling within the team.
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Kyrie went on to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, and the Celtics signed former longtime Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker as his replacement. Walker has been a great fit thus far in Boston, and he is averaging 21.1 points, 4.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game.
He is seemingly deferring more than he did in Charlotte and more than Irving did when he was with the Celtics. That has led to the likes of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart enjoying career years thus far after previously appearing stifled.
Boston's depth of talent is on full display this season, which is why it is tied for second in the Eastern Conference and trails the Milwaukee Bucks by 1.5 games for the No. 1 seed even with star wing Gordon Hayward on the shelf because of a hand injury.
Both Walker and Irving are multi-time All-Stars who are among the best guards in the NBA, but the fit with Walker in the fold appears to be better than last season, which is likely why the Celtics look like a different team.