Nikola Jokic, Tristan Thompson

Former Cleveland center Tristan Thompson, right, has earned a reputation as one of the NBA’s best rebounders and low-post defenders, but he also brings experience and leadership to his new team – the Celtics. Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics didn’t get Tristan Thompson to be the best center in the NBA. At this point, it’s unclear if he’s even going to be the starting center when the season opens on Dec. 23.

But the Celtics are coming off a playoff series loss to the Miami Heat that everyone around the team feels they could have, and should have, won to advance to the NBA finals. Mental lapses and costly, uncharacteristic turnovers led to squandered leads throughout the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics are hoping Thompson’s unique playoff experience can be part of that solution.

“(The Cleveland Cavaliers) came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat a 73-win team. And I think that that takes a lot of team chemistry and team building in order to accomplish those kind of things at this level,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “So I think Tristan’s experienced in the NBA. He’s seen a lot, and I think he’s a good, hard-working guy, like I said. So I think he’ll add a lot. There’s a lot of value to having him … on our team. And in our locker room.”

Add to that Thompson’s experience of playing with LeBron James (“THE greatest player,” Thompson said while being asked the question), and the Celtics have a player with an experience no one on this team can match. And Thompson is more than happy to pass that knowledge down to his new teammates.

“LeBron texted us and said if you don’t think we have a chance to win Game 5 or this series, then don’t come on the plane.” Thompson said while meeting the Boston media for the first time Thursday afternoon. “As a young guy, to hear your leader say that and believe that much in this ballclub, it says a lot. It gave the guys who weren’t sure faith and hope. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of that, so for me to be able to share my wisdom from what I learned from Bron and pass on to these guys is what the NBA is about.”

One of those teammates hoping to soak up that knowledge is a player hoping to also reach an MVP level. Thompson’s experience with LeBron is something he’ll use to, he hopes, help propel Jayson Tatum to another level.

“Never be afraid to speak up. If you see something that’s not right, you have earned the right with this ballclub to speak up and say your mind,” Thompson said. “I want Jayson to be the best Jayson he can be, and he should want me to be the best Tristan I can be. That’s what real brotherhood and leadership is about and that’s how you take your game to the next level.”

Thompson will do all the work a center is supposed to do. He’ll rebound and protect the rim. He’ll set picks, roll, and catch his fair share of lobs. The Celtics are certainly looking forward to everything he can do on both ends of the court.

In way, the Celtics can almost take his play for granted, because they know anyone who compares his energy to Marcus Smart’s is probably going to give it his all on the floor.

Where he can make his biggest impact on this team is in the locker room, and it’s a responsibility Thompson is all too happy to carry.

“It’s a fraternity, and when you have a chance to play with greatness – one of the best to ever play this game – you want to pass down the wisdom,” Thompson said. “If I can pass wisdom down to JT or Jaylen (Brown), he’s going to pass it down to the next young guys coming up. That’s how you keep the cycle going.”

MARCUS SMART tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March, shortly after the league began it’s long, midseason pandemic hiatus.

Since then, the league restarted and completed its season thanks to a plan that relied heavily on testing, isolation, and then entering a bubble where all NBA players and staff stayed coronavirus-free.

Now the league is trying again, this time without the bubble, and at a time where cases, hospitalizations and deaths are soaring. Smart, though, says he’s comfortable with how the league is proceeding.

“I’m very, very impressed with how the league has handled it, especially with the bubble, and then especially with how they’re handling things to proceed with this season,” Smart said Thursday. “You can tell that they’re definitely taking the approach ‘better safe than sorry’ and allowing us to get back to doing our job and bringing entertainment to the fans and to the people out there. So I definitely think the approach that the league is taking is a good one.”

Teams have begun individual workouts this week in preparation for the new season to begin later this month. In the first round of testing, 48 players tested positive, which is about 8.4% of the league. The result is not all that unexpected as players return from their offseasons, and the goal is to find all of the positive cases, isolate them, and get 100% healthy teams back on the floor.


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