Celtics Begin Camp Ahead of the Curve

WALTHAM, Mass. – Rajon Rondo was asked by Celtics.com if today’s first day of training camp didn’t necessarily feel like Day 1. His response indicated that he might have taken up acting this summer in addition to his well-known GQ internship.

“No, it felt like Day 1 of camp,” he responded.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo's summer leadership has sent the Celtics into training camp ahead of the curve.
Jim Rogash/NBAE/Getty Images

We’re calling his bluff.

This wasn’t a typical first day of preseason for the Boston Celtics. Not by any means.

First of all, the team underwent a major makeover this summer. A cast of new players, including Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and three draft picks, were added to the roster. Lee, who’s playing on his fifth team in five seasons, is now the starting shooting guard, replacing the large shoes of Ray Allen.

Under normal circumstances, a major offseason makeover like this would certainly make for a difficult first day of practice for an NBA basketball team. However, a summer of hard work and team bonding – most notably at a week of practice out at UCLA, which Rajon Rondo organized – has put the Celtics ahead of the curve.

“We had a chance to go out to L.A. on our own, work some plays,” said captain Paul Pierce. “We changed some new sets. So today, we kind of just went in there and from the drop everybody knew what we were doing, had an idea, and that was great to see that from day 1.”

That may seem like a moot point to those on the outside who don’t understand how difficult it is to learn a new team’s system, but as Pierce elaborated, it became clear that this is a massive benefit.

“Oh, it’s a tremendous advantage,” Pierce said of the entire team understanding the system. “Because for one, Doc doesn’t have to do too much explaining. We can just kind of jump into things.”

That doesn’t typically happen on the first day of camp unless a team brings back most of its players from the previous season. It most definitely didn’t happen last season, when the Celtics and the rest of the league were thrown into a condensed training camp days after finding out that there would be a 2011-12 season.

One of the greatest advantages to having a regular offseason is the fact that Boston’s rookies – and there are a lot of them – aren’t being thrown into the fire of an NBA season without any nurturing. Last season’s rookies, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, had almost no knowledge of the team’s system before the first practice. They weren’t able to work out with the team over the summer, and they couldn’t even talk to coaches.

This year, draft picks Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph, along with rookie signees Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith, are already well-versed in the Celtic way. They all played in two summer leagues together and have been working out here at the practice facility for months now.

Doc Rivers, for one, can’t ignore the fact that his rookies have been playing in Boston’s system for months and that the veterans who were brought in this summer spent that week in L.A. He can already see the dividends paying off.

“It’s huge,” said Rivers. “Obviously we have a lot to teach them, but you can see that they’ve played together, and I think that makes a big difference.”

Playing together and being around each other are the first steps toward developing team chemistry. And after last season, we all know how far team chemistry can go. Sometimes it’s more important than the talent on the roster, and that’s why Boston took the eventual champion Miami Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals despite a slew of injuries and subpar talent compared to the Heat.

The good news for Boston is that chemistry is already budding within the 2012-13 version of the Celtics, according to Kevin Garnett.

In a not-so-succinct story, Garnett told reporters about a drive the team took to a dinner Friday night. Many of them drove separately, and many of the new acquisitions don’t exactly know their way around the city just yet. Still, though, the players bobbed and weaved through traffic together in a manner that stuck out in Garnett’s mind. He couldn’t put it into words, but it was clear what he was trying to say: the players were already operating as one and thinking on the same page despite the fact that they were all in separate cars.

Garnett may have gone out on a pretty long limb by using that story to describe the team’s current state of chemistry, but his point definitely came across. This team is already on the same page, and chemistry is only going to improve when the group makes its way halfway across the world on Monday to Istanbul, Turkey.

That’s plenty of proof for us to call Rondo’s bluff.