Ainge, Rivers Prepare for Hectic Preseason

WALTHAM, Mass. - It’s beginning to look a lot like basketball season in Boston.

For the first time this season, Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers appeared side-by-side for a media session in Waltham, Mass., to talk about basketball, and in particular, their players.

The 2011-12 season is scheduled to begin on Christmas Day with a myriad of star-studded games. The Celtics, both players and front office personnel, are now permitted to begin prepping for that day and speaking to the media about it.

Ainge and Rivers were the first Celtics to make their much-anticipated appearance on Thursday at the team’s practice facility, and they relayed several key messages in their 20-plus minutes of availability. The most important factor that was continuously hammered home was the fact that their team has a lot of work to do to fill out its roster.

At this point, only six players – Ray Allen, Avery Bradley, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo – are under contract with the Celtics. Two more, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, are set to join the club as well, as they are Boston’s two 2011 draft picks.

That leaves eight players likely making up the current roster, and as both Ainge and Rivers alluded to on Thursday, that isn’t even enough to play a full five-on-five game. Still, though, Ainge believes the roster will be on solid ground come Dec. 9, when training camps are expected to open.

“Hopefully we’ll be close (to a full roster) on Dec. 9,” Ainge said. “There may be some straggling players coming in, but hopefully when we start training camp we’ll at least have 10.”

Ainge and his crew have been working the phones since Wednesday in order to turn that hope into reality. Although players would not be able to sign contracts until the prospective first day of training camp, Ainge can contact agents and get a solid feel for what direction he will move in once teams are authorized to sign players.

Filling out the roster will certainly be a difficult task. There are plenty of areas on this team where Ainge must look to upgrade, and he was not shy about mentioning that fact on Thursday.

“We have a lot of needs – our whole bench,” said Ainge. “We have six players under contract right now, and so we have the point the guard position, wing positions and big guys to fill.”

The frontcourt, and the center position in particular, is likely the top priority for the Celtics to deepen in the coming weeks. O’Neal is currently the only center on the roster, and that will need to change.

“It’s extremely important,” Rivers said of plugging in another big man. “That’s why we’re on the phone working right now. We have to get size.”

While Ainge and his crew will be working hard to fill their open roster spots, there is no denying the talent that currently resides within the Celtics. Four members of the starting five will be entering their fifth season together on the court. Those are the players that could potentially lead this team to glory, and everyone knows that.

When asked what the core of this team is, Ainge had a simple response: “Four All-Stars.”

The fact that those players have been together for so long, and operated with an unparalleled level of camaraderie essentially since Day 1, has to be an advantage for Boston heading into a condensed season. Training camps will be limited, preseason games will be limited, and the regular season would begin just 16 days after the team officially comes together for its first practice. Having a core made up of players that know each other’s tendencies, possibly more than any other team in the league, has to be a sizeable advantage.

Regardless of what assistance that may provide, the Celtics will not dance around the fact that there’s a lot of work to be done. They are not the Dallas Mavericks. They aren’t the defending champions. They’re not the hunted. They’re the hunters.

“We have to get back to work to be a championship team,” stated Rivers. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re not trying to win it again; we’re trying to win it for the first time with this group. That’s the mentality we have to have coming into this season.”

It took a while to arrive at this date, with the Celtics’ two well-known front office faces appearing as a tip off to the season, but it was well worth the wait. Ainge and Rivers behind a conference table? Words like “championship,” “Rondo,” “practice,” and “free agents” being uttered?

Yup, it’s beginning to look a lot like basketball season in Boston. Who wouldn’t be excited about that?