BOSTON — When the Boston Celtics parted with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a blockbuster trade, they were left with a huge rebuilding job focused on three areas.
Offense, defense and patience.
Throw in the departure of Doc Rivers after nine years as Boston’s coach and the arrival of NBA neophyte Brad Stevens as his replacement and the 17-time NBA champions face a bleak future.
Pierce and Garnett are with the Brooklyn Nets. Rivers is coaching the Los Angeles Clippers. And patience is a priority with the Celtics, especially with point guard Rajon Rondo still recovering from knee surgery.
“It’s probably one of the top words in our vocabulary going through the season,” said forward Jeff Green, one of seven holdovers from last season’s team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. “We have patience. I think people outside of our circle need to have patience – fans, media. I mean, you can’t get perfection overnight.”
Pierce is the second-leading scorer in Celtics history. Garnett was their emotional and defensive backbone. And Rivers was the man who commanded respect with his knowledge of the game and ability to relate to players.
It’s very difficult to replace all that, even in the long term. So there will be plenty of growing pains as the players thrown together through the draft, trades and free agent signings get used to each other and their young coach.
“There needs to be a lot of patience,” said guard Courtney Lee, another returnee. “There’s new bodies, a new coach and new system. It’s going to take a while to get everything down.”
With Stevens signed to a six-year contract, Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge is willing to absorb some tough times while adding young players. The Celtics have nine first-round draft picks in the next five years – two each in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 and one in 2017.
So Stevens knows he must be patient.
“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “That’s hard.”
Five things to know while the Celtics head into a rough season:
1. GOING, GOING, GONE: Pierce and Garnett led the Celtics to the 2008 championship and energized the team and its fans. But rather than hang on to them for one last shot at a title, Ainge saw an opportunity to unload aging, high-priced players well past their prime. In exchange, he obtained four players plus first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 from the Nets. The results of the trade won’t be clear for years.
2. WHAT’S THE POINT?: Rondo runs the offense but can’t do it from the sideline. His return date is uncertain after having surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that ended his season after 38 games. His replacement? Good question. With no experienced point guard, the Celtics are expected to go with Avery Bradley, a defensive whiz.
3. ON-THE-JOB TRAINING: Happy birthday, Brad. The Celtics new coach turned 37 last week with just two wins in his eight exhibition games. He hit the spotlight when he took Butler of the mid-major Horizon League to NCAA championship games in 2010 and 2011 but lost both. “Everyone’s learning the system at the same time and they’re all on the same page,” said rookie forward Kelly Olynyk, the Celtics first-round draft pick. “With a new coach, he’s learning the game at the same pace I am, so that’s a positive as well.”
4. NEW LEADERS: Garnett was loud. Pierce was productive. Rondo ran the offense. So who are the new leaders? Forwards Green and Brandon Bass could be despite their laid-back demeanors.
“With what I’ve done throughout this league, I’m going to have to be a leader on this team,” Green said, “especially with Rondo out.”
“You’ve got to have unbelievable patience,” Bass said. “Me, being one of the leaders, if I can be patient, it can rub off on others.”
Said Stevens: “I don’t know what the leadership roles were like last year because I wasn’t here, but the guy that’s been the most vocal leader for us has been Rondo. I think he’s done a very good job of it.”
5. NO TANKS: The worse their record, the better their draft pick. Boston could “tank” the season to achieve that goal, but Ainge said he doesn’t want the Celtics to lose just to move up in the draft. “I think every player wants to know what the rules of the team are,” he said. “I assured (them) we’re going to try to win every game.”