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WALTHAM, Mass. – Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been closely observing his product in action over the last month, and now, with the regular season nearly upon us, he has revealed some of his early impressions of the team.
Friday afternoon, five days ahead of Opening Night, Ainge spoke with the media and discussed some of his key takeaways from the preseason:
Horford’s Smooth Transition
Ainge’s biggest move of the offseason was signing four-time All-Star Al Horford. It was expected that it would take some time for the veteran big man to adjust to the new team and the new system, but so far, Ainge says Horford’s transition has been as smooth as can be.
“I’m sure he would tell you he’s not 100 percent comfortable yet,” said Ainge, “but he doesn’t appear to have (to make) much of a transition to our team.
“He just really knows how to play. He’s an efficient scorer. He takes care of the ball. He holds down the fort and communicates on defense. He does all the little things that we would expect a veteran to do.”
Best of all, Horford’s presence on the court is having a positive impact on his teammates, which enhances the chemistry of Boston’s tight-knit rotation.
“Every practice, whoever plays with Al just seems to look better,” said Ainge. “Sometimes we’ll have a player like Ben Bentil, who would get like eight shots in a scrimmage, and Al won’t even get one. But he just knows how to play, he’s all about winning and he plays 100 percent for the team.”
Counting on the Rookie
Boston’s other major addition this past offseason was Jaylen Brown, the third overall pick in the Draft.
Brown played extensively during the preseason, logging at least 20 minutes of play during each of Boston’s seven games. Coach Brad Stevens threw the 19-year-old forward into the fire by having him play both the 3 and the 4 positions, which is a lot to handle for a rookie who is making the transition from college to the NBA.
But so far, Brown has tackled every obstacle thrown his way, and Ainge believes he’s ready impact the Celtics immediately.
“You want to keep things as simple as you can for the young players so they can play free and just play,” Ainge said. “The defensive systems in the NBA are very sophisticated and they’re different than most colleges so that’s usually the biggest transition, but Jaylen has shown that he can contribute to an NBA team right now.”
By “right now,” Ainge means that the Celtics are truly going to count on him immediately, especially considering that Marcus Smart is questionable for Wednesday’s season opener due to a sprained ankle
“We need [Brown’s] strength and athleticism, and we need him to provide us with some help,” said Ainge.
Rozier Surpassing Expectations
Another guy who will be heavily counted upon if Marcus misses some action is Terry Rozier.
The second-year point guard did not play much last season for the Celtics, but he was without a doubt one of the most impressive individuals during preseason. Through seven games, he averaged 20.3 points per 36 minutes, shot 54 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point range.
“I think Terry has been by far the biggest surprise of training camp, and I would say the entire summer,” said Ainge. “He really was the bright spot in Summer League and then after Summer League he’s just continued to improve even more. I think he’s going to have a really good year.”
Still Work to be Done
While the difficult part of the preseason is over for Boston’s players, Ainge’s biggest challenge still awaits – making the final roster decisions.
Boston currently has 16 guaranteed contracts, but it must cut the roster to 15 players by Monday.
Ainge indicated that the final spot is likely up in the air between R.J. Hunter and James Young, though he’s also actively searching for trade partners to avoid making a cut.
“We’re continuing to evaluate and look for opportunities out there, if there’s any deals to be had,” said Ainge. “We knew that this situation would present itself or was the most likely scenario to happen when camp started, and both of those guys have played very well so it has made the decision very difficult.”
It’s a decision that needs to be made, nonetheless, by Monday at 5 p.m.