It’s no secret that there are plenty of uncertainties surrounding the Celtics lineup this season. We’re 11 days into training camp and no one, including Brad Stevens, knows what the starting five is going to look like. For today’s preseason opener in Italy against Olimpia Milano, he went with Smart, Bradley, Crowder, Lee, and Zeller but he said that he intends to switch things up against Real Madrid on Thursday. For Stevens this is a good problem to have. It’s a credit to the talent, depth, and versatility of the group of guys that Danny Ainge has been able to assemble over the last couple years. Jared Sullinger, who’s one of those players on the bubble as far as whether or not he’ll start, said the Celtics’ efforts in practice thus far have made Stevens’ job even harder.
“That’s the unique part of this group,” Sullinger said. “We have a lot of guys that can play multiple positions very well, every night. And so he’s in a tough situation. Every day we make it harder for him.”
So with the immense amount of the talent on this roster and all of the questions as to how the pieces will fall into place, it comes as no surprise that the team practices have been quite competitive. And considering the fact that it’s their deepest position at the moment, it was inevitable that there would be a little chippiness between the guards. That was definitely the case yesterday between Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas.
The Celts spent the day before their opening preseason game running up and down the floor of the Mediolanum Forum, and tempers flared a bit near the end of practice. In one exchange, Isaiah Thomas drove to the basket and was fouled hard by Marcus Smart. Thomas turned around and barked at the second-year guard: “You can’t stop me.”
The two traded words for a while, and the message was clear: It’s time for a real game.
“Isaiah raises everybody’s level of competitiveness, as does Marcus,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Those guys are really competitive — obviously Terry (Rozier) and Avery (Bradley), too — but they are definitely louder, which isn’t all bad. They can get each other wrapped up, and that’s a good thing. It’s contagious, but it has to be appropriate.
As a fan this is the type of stuff that gets you fired up for the season. We all know Smart and Isaiah are competitive players but when you start screaming at each other in a practice in early October then you’re reaching a KG-like level of intensity which, as Celtics fans know, can really elevate a team. Isaiah Thomas doesn’t think there is a player on planet Earth that can guard him and Marcus Smart doesn’t think there is a player on planet Earth that he can’t guard. So what happens when they guard each other in practice? They fight. They get under each other’s skin. These are the types of players that teams need in order to be successful. Avery Bradley is another one of those guys who plays with an edge, and he has also made it clear that confidence isn’t something he’ll be lacking coming into this season. On media day he said that he’s on a mission to “remind people that Avery Bradley is the best guard defender in the NBA.” A few months ago, he also claimed that Celtics could find themselves in the Finals. While that may seem like a bit of stretch, and it is, there is no question that the Celtics have a winning basketball team. They’re still oozing with confidence after last year’s 24-12 run to end the season and they’ve gotten better with the additions of David Lee and Amir Johnson so there’s no reason that they shouldn’t feel like the sky is the limit.
One thing is for sure. This team is full of talented, (mostly) young players who truly believe they can accomplish anything that they put their minds to. When you couple that with a coach who is a master at managing young players’ egos as well as being a basketball genius, there really is no telling how far you can go.