Celtics Break Camp With Nine On Board

WALTHAM, Mass. – Today certainly wasn’t a typical Day 1 of training camp for the Boston Celtics, but it was Day 1 nonetheless.

For starters, practice didn’t take place during the afternoon. Instead, it began in the early evening, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. The Celtics weren’t able to take the floor earlier in the day because, to put it simply, their roster is currently in a state of flux.

With free agency beginning at 2 p.m. this afternoon, teams with limited players under contract – such as the Celtics, who had only six players signed – were rushing to fill out their rosters. Boston did as well as it could for the day and wound up sending nine Celtics onto the floor for practice.

So, who exactly are the Celtics of 2011-12? Well, here’s what we know so far.

The starting five that finished up last season with an Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Miami Heat is back. Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal were all on the court together for the first time since spring, and as Allen stated, this was exactly where he needed to be.

“When those leaves start to fall, you know pretty much where [you’re supposed to be], and I was inside my house looking out the window telling my landscape guy, ‘Hey, you missed a batch of leaves over there,’ ” Allen joked. “[My family] was ready for me to go back because I’m always micromanaging everything around the house. So it’s good to be back at the day job.”

Alongside the regulars were two familiar faces, both of whom will likely have an increased role on the team this season.

Avery Bradley, entering his second season with the team, seems to be a different person than he was in his rookie campaign. By talking to him for just a few minutes, it was clear that his confidence is not lacking. Bradley chose to play overseas during the lockout, which could only have helped his confidence, and he also believes he has a strong grasp of the playbook this season.

The other familiar face that graced the practice floor today was one that no one could have ever foreseen returning 10 months ago. Nearly 10 months ago to the day, Marquis Daniels was carted off of the Garden parquet on a stretcher with a frightening neck injury, and not only was there a fear that he’d never play basketball again, there was a fear for his life.

Yet there he stood today, alongside his teammates from the past two seasons, telling us all just how great he feels.

“It's amazing," he said, "even with my thumb injuries and everything, it all can from my spine. Just being weak in my hands and everything. So now I'm totally stronger in all of those areas. It's a blessing.”

Doc Rivers, who initially opposed bringing Daniels back, is more than happy to have the swingman back now that a successful surgery has been performed.

“I didn’t think Marquis would ever play basketball again. As a matter of fact, I told him he shouldn’t, before surgery,” Rivers said. “I was very honest with him… and then he had surgery and gets clearance and actually is probably better, healthier, now than he was before he got hurt. So it’s great to have a guy back who knows our system and knows who we are.”

Daniels rounds out the list of Celtics who were not practicing in a Boston jersey for the first time. Count ‘em – but don’t count too fast – even players. That’s not the typical way for a title contender to go about business on Day 1 of training camp.

That is, however, exactly what the Celtics did this evening. They went about their business with the pieces they had, which include two new faces falling into the fold.

The Celtics wanted to get younger, and they wanted to get more athletic. They did both by bringing in power forward Chris Wilcox, the eighth overall selection of the 2002 NBA Draft.

Wilcox has bounced around the league during his nine-year career, but he has always been able to contribute. His career averages of 8.8 PPG and 5.1 RPG will surely be greeted with open arms by Boston, which hasn’t exactly featured great depth in the frontcourt over the previous few seasons. If there’s one aspect to Wilcox’s game that truly stands out to Rivers and his staff, it’s what helped the 6-foot-10 forward become a lottery pick nearly a decade ago – his athleticism.

“He’s athletic. That was one of the things we targeted, we needed more athleticism on our team,” Rivers said of Wilcox. “He’s a guy that runs the floor. He’s a great pick-and-roll guy, because you can throw the ball up to the rim, and he can go get it. And we thought with Rondo, that would be a terrific thing for him to have.”

For now, Wilcox will join Garnett and O’Neal as Boston’s main frontcourt in practice, but that’s sure to change soon. The Celtics’ first-round draft pick in 2011, JaJuan Johnson, should make his way onto the court soon. Greg Stiemsma, a 6-foot-11 big man who has previously signed contracts with the Timberwolves and Cavaliers, also joined the team today for his first taste of Boston basketball, helping the C’s to nearly have enough players for a 5-on-5 game.

The fact that such a game still isn’t possible is going to change, and soon. Danny Ainge and the front office are not done constructing this team, and particularly the frontcourt. There are several pieces – big pieces – still moving into place.

“Oh, I like our team,” Rivers anxiously responded in the first 90 seconds of his media availability. “I like what we have, I like the guys that we have on the team. I like what’s coming (to the team in the near future). I just think we’ve done a pretty good job with not having a lot of flexibility. I thought Danny (Ainge) and his group did an amazing job.”

Until all of those moves are finalized, the Celtics are operating in a foreign world. As Allen touched on this evening, none of these players or coaches have experienced a situation like this, not even in the 1998-99 lockout.

Asked if this was the oddest first day of training camp he had experienced in his career, Allen, who was around during the ’99 lockout, responded: “By far. Just the way things transpired here in the last week, two weeks, I think everybody who’s a part of this process, including the fans, just get so used to doing things a certain way. This is our livelihood, this is what we’ve been doing most our lives.”

So as nearly everyone touched on this evening, Day 1 was atypical. Day 2 certainly won’t be the standard, either. But with every passing hour, the Celtics will inch toward becoming whole again.

Once they do, they’ll hit the ground running, just as they have for the past four seasons.