Short camp will prove tough for Rivers, Celtics

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Short camp will prove tough for Rivers, Celtics

WALTHAM From year to year, NBA training camps aren't the same.

But this season's camp will be unlike anything Doc Rivers has dealt with as a player or coach.

For starters, you have the start date - Dec. 9 - which is a couple months later than usual due to the NBA lockout. And then there's his roster - if you can even call it that with just six players under contract.

Rivers doesn't mince his words when talking about the challenges that await him and his staff in preparation for this season.

"It'll be difficult," he said. "It's different than in the past. You kind of have a game plan and it forms through the summer. By the time camp rolls around, you've probably had a month or two to kind of work out your system and what you want to do. This is kind of opposite. We've created a system all summer, the coaches have, and now we're trying to go out and try and get the right players to fit the system so we can get it into play quicker. And if you fail to get those players, then you might have to change your system. It is different, no doubt about that."

While the Celtics' core group remains intact - for now, at least - Rivers isn't sold on the idea that their experience will make things smoother during this later-than-usual start to training camp.

"We're going to go more, we're going to work harder in camp," Rivers said. "We have to treat this team like a new team, not like it's an old team trying to win for the last time. We're treating this like a new team, trying to win for the first time."

That sounds good, but the balancing act between pushing guys hard enough without overdoing it will once again be one of the underlying themes with the Celtics this season.

As far as conditioning to start camp, that's the last thing Rivers seems worried about now.

"I expect them to be in shape; I really do," Rivers said. "We have a pretty professional group. None of them will be in game shape, because you can't be. But I expect them to be in very good shape. I'd be very surprised if any of them are not."

But with a truncated 66-game season that will feature a slew of back-to-backs and at least one, back-to-back-to-back, there will almost certainly be games where one or two of the team's core players will sit out.

"I don't know what the schedule is yet," Rivers said. "But clearly, there's going to be times where the rest is going to be a major factor, and we're going to have to do that right."

What Rivers needs, maybe more than anything, is quality depth that can come in, develop on-the-floor chemistry and contribute immediately.

That process becomes somewhat easier when you bring in players who have played in Rivers' system previously.

"In a shortened season, it benefits us to stay the course more than it is to change," Rivers said. "Having said that, if the change is going to make you better in the long run, you do that. It's clear that teams that have continuity, will have an advantage coming out the gates."

So the Celtics on a couple different fronts, may be faced with the prospect of bringing back a former Celtic like, say Marquis Daniels, or adding someone new like Josh Howard or Shane Battier.

"We have to think about this season and the whole picture at the same time," Rivers said. "It's a hard thing to do. And what will come into play is, which is more important at the end of the day, this season or the big picture? They both are important."

Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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From now until the opening of training camp, we'll be asking a question about the Celtics and the upcoming season. Today: Is the honeymoon over for coach Brad Stevens?
 
BOSTON – When the Celtics convinced Brad Stevens to leave behind an incredibly successful college coaching career at Butler (two national title runner-up finishes) to become their head coach in 2013, the Celtics were immediately credited with having added one of the brightest young basketball minds to the family.
 
Three years into the job and Stevens has shown tangible improvement with Boston having won more games from each season to the next.
 
But this 2016-2017 campaign will be unlike any that Stevens has had while at the helm in Boston.
 
While the expectations each year have been greater than their immediate predecessor, Boston now finds itself going into the season as one of the hunted in the East as opposed to being well entrenched among the hunters.
 
Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook released its win total odds last week for NBA teams., predicting the Celtics (51.5) will be one of five teams (Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers were the others) expected to win at least 50 games.
 
But as we all have seen, expectations and actual results don’t always mesh.
 
Stevens has enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the franchise and fans throughout his first three seasons.
 
But if Boston fails to live up to the increased expectations, does that mean the honeymoon for Stevens is over?
 
While anything is possible when it comes to Celtics Nation, it will take more than one sub-par season for him to lose the support of the team’s fan base.
 
Here are three reasons why regardless of how the Celtics fare this season, "In Brad we trust" will remain in effect.
 
YOUNG NUCLEUS
 
Boston has a roster full of what league execs like to refer to as "Young Veterans."
 
A great example of this is 27-year-old Isaiah Thomas who is heading into his sixth NBA season.
 
Thomas, a first-time all-star last year, has seen enough of the league to not be confused with a youngster. That said, he’s still young and has enough upside to where you can’t classify him as a grizzled veteran, either.
 
Because that makes up the majority of this Celtics roster, it speaks volumes about how this group still has a tremendous amount of room to grow going forward.
 
And because of that potential and Stevens’ track record of getting the most out of his players, you won’t see him or the Celtics panic if this season doesn’t play out the way they envision it.
 
STRONG FOUNDATION
 
In Stevens’ first year coaching the Celtics, there was a definite talent gap between what Boston put on the floor and what they had to deal with on the opposing bench.
 
And yet there they were most nights, fighting and clawing their way towards a competitive game that no most nights ended with a loss.
 
The silver lining in that 25-win season was how this Celtics team played with a never-give-up mentality, a trait they saw first-hand from their coach Brad Stevens.
 
Regardless of whether they were up 25 points or trailing, Stevens maintained an even-keeled demeanor that quietly accomplished a number of things.
 
For starters, it provided a sense of confidence among the players that their head coach wasn’t going to get rattled by a rough night or a stretch of rough nights.
 
Regardless of the results, Stevens was going to continue working towards getting better.
 
That was his approach when they were struggling to win games, and it remained in place last season when they spent a good chunk of the year ranked among the top teams in the East.
 
So with that being established as part of the foundation under Stevens, that foundation combined with better talent collectively led to more wins.
 
EVEN-KEELED LEADERSHIP
 
Stevens and the Celtics are now at a crossroads in which the steady improvement we’ve seen now must take that all-important next step and become one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
 
Again, it is much easier said than done but as every Celtics player will tell you, is definitely doable.
 
While Cleveland remains the standard bearer in the East, it is very wide open afterwards with Boston, Toronto and Atlanta the most likely teams to contend for the No. 2 spot in the East.
 
The mood is always a positive, upbeat one on the eve of training camp.
 
But the Celtics have more reasons than usual to be optimistic about their upcoming season which kicks off with training camp this week.
 
They have better depth with the additions of rookie Jaylen Brown and veterans Gerald Green and four time all-star Al Horford. Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all return with the mindset being to build off of what worked for them last season.
 
And then there’s Stevens who has quickly established himself as a bright, up-and-comer in the coaching world.
 
But at some point, all that promise and potential he has shown as a coach has to ultimately lead to big-time production.
 
And the pressure that comes with that tends to build when the honeymoon that all coaches enjoy, is officially over.
 
Stevens is getting close to that point, but he isn’t there yet.
 
Much of his success will still be based on players striving towards reaching their potential.
 
Because of that, he won’t catch too much heat if the team underachieves in what will be a season in which the expectations have never been higher.
 
But that’s OK.
 
Because regardless of how the stakes may be, Stevens will continue to be an even-keeled, level-headed leader that Celtics Nation won’t turn its back on anytime soon.

NBA Question of the Day: How will Ben Simmons do?

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NBA Question of the Day: How will Ben Simmons do?

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From now until NBA training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the league and its upcoming season. Today: How will No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons do with the Philadelphia 76ers?

BOSTON – If you spent any time watching Ben Simmons beyond the 10-15 second highlights late at night, you would have seen a player whose potential as an NBA star is kind of scary.
 
There’s having size as a playmaker, and then there’s the 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons, who is as close to being a Magic Johnson clone, from a playmaking standpoint, as we’ve seen since the original 30-plus years ago.
 
Still, the Sixers of today will never, ever be confused with the 1980 Lakers.
 
The supporting cast was in place to help facilitate Johnson’s transition from college stud to NBA superstar.
 
In the case of Simmons, his success will be heavily predicated on two specific circumstances being created by the Sixers in order to fully take advantage of his strengths as a player.
 
WHERE DOES HE PLAY?
 
As tempting as it might be to have a 6-10 point guard on the floor, the Sixers know they can’t do that.
 
And the reason is pretty simple.
 
The reason you don’t see 6-10 (or 6-9 or 6-8 for that matter) point guards is because in order to play the position they have to be able to defend it, too.
 
Can you imagine Simmons trying to guard Isaiah Thomas with regularity for a game?

And if you get into the habit of cross-matching up all game long, it just opens a Pandora’s box of potential defensive gaffes with players either trying too hard to compensate for one another, or not recognizing when to help.
 
Simmons’ court vision is too great to not at least position him to be something of a point-forward. The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to do that with Giannis Antetokounmpo which thus far, has produced mixed results.
 
Regardless, the Sixers have to get the ball in Simmons’ hands and position him to make plays for his teammates. For all of his strengths, playmaking is what makes him a special talent. To not play to that strength and help him develop that even more so, would be stupid. 
 
 
WHO DOES HE PLAY WITH?
 
Philadelphia will once again lose a lot of games this season and that can certainly wear on the psyche of a young player like Simmons. It becomes even tougher when he’s making the right plays, getting the ball to guys where they can be most effective and the results are missed shot after missed shot.
 
It is absolutely imperative that the Sixers surround him with nice mix of guys who can shoot and/or finish at the rim.
 
Because with Simmons’ size and court vision, players with those skills as strengths will get opportunities to do what they do best.
 
Last season, the Sixers were in the bottom-10 in 3-point shooting (33.9 percent, 24th in the NBA) and field goal percentage (43.1 percent, 29th).
 
But here’s one of the dilemmas Philadelphia is facing.
 
They want to play faster which they were able to do last season as their PACE (number of possessions per 48 minutes) of 100.23 was the sixth-best in the NBA.
 
But this roster isn’t built to run a lot AND be effective offensively.
 
Look at last season.
 
They ran as much as any team in the NBA, and yet the Sixers had a league-worst offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 96.6.
 
And all that running seemed to wear them down more than their foes.
 
Their defensive rating was 106.7 which ranked 25th in the league.
 
With Simmons likely to start at small forward, he’ll be joined by Nerlens Noel and either Jahlil Okafor or Joel Embiid in the frontcourt. Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez are fighting to be the starting point guard. 

There are a number of directions Philadelphia can go at shooting guard (Hollis Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), none of which are great choices frankly.
 
And while there’s no lineup that will fit perfectly with Simmons’ game, there are several that could make his rookie experience a horrible one not only in terms of wins and losses, but also in his overall growth and development as a player.
 
And let’s be clear about something.

If the Sixers are going to ever become relevant in the NBA other than being a punching bag for other teams and an easy punchline for late-night comedians, Simmons is going to have to be that game-changer.
 
Indeed, he is the best hope to be the unifying force for a Sixers franchise that has lots of quality pieces that, for now at least, don’t have a natural fit.