NBA training camp begins tomorrow, and that means the 2023-24 season is right around the corner. Yet, before the upcoming season starts, the Boston Celtics sounded off at Media Day.
There was no shortage of things to talk about for the C's, as they had an incredibly busy offseason. To start, the front office dealt veteran guard Marcus Smart to the Memphis Grizzlies in a three-team trade for center Kristaps Porzingis. Just two weeks later, the Celtics shipped off forward Grant Williams to Dallas in a sign-and-trade.
And when all of the action seemed to die down before Media Day, a Woj bomb dropped. Former Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday was on his way to Boston in exchange for center Robert Williams III and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.
Despite falling just one game short of the NBA Finals last postseason, the C's completely revamped their roster. It's still championship or bust for Boston, and that was evident in all of the comments the players and coaches gave the press on Monday. So, let's break down what everyone had to say and review the six biggest takeaways from Boston's 2023-24 Media Day.
6 biggest Media Day takeaways
6. Joe Mazulla is ready for his sophomore season
Prior to training camp last year, the basketball world was set ablaze when the Celtics suspended former head coach Ime Udoka. The players seemed confused and the public was mostly out of the loop, leaving head coach Joe Mazzulla to pick up the pieces.
All things considered, the 35-year-old—who had never been the head coach of any team besides a small D-II school in West Virginia—did a solid job. The Celtics posted a 57-25 record and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before getting bounced in seven games by the Miami Heat.
While the Green Team didn't achieve their ultimate goal, they got close. Of course, there are no moral victories, yet the fact that Mazzulla could do that in his rookie season bodes well for his sophomore year at the helm. Mazzulla now has his own staff, a full offseason under his belt, and more overall experience. During Media Day, he revealed some of the new coaching styles he and his fellow coaches are instituting:
Joe Mazzulla on his coaching style with new staff: "We kind of took this approach of tribal leadership, you know, communicating and working in teams of threes and fours instead of one-on-one."
— Daniel Donabedian (@danield1214) October 2, 2023
The Rhode Island native also spoke about regaining the Celtics' defensive identity, which is something his players are also on board with.
5. The Celtics want their defensive identity back
Mazzulla said it loud and clear during Media Day: he wants to be the “toughest” and most “physical team.”
Following through on that declaration will mostly require work on the defensive end, and Celtics guard Jaylen Brown seems to agree. This offseason, he and fellow star Jayson Tatum announced how they'd like to make an All-Defensive team, and Brown doubled down on that sentiment on Monday, per Celtics writer Taylor Snow.
“I think I can be one of the better defenders in the world,” Brown told the media. “And that's something I'm challenging myself with.”
At the end of last year's playoffs, Boston's defense became inconsistent. On some nights, the Celtics would lock up opposing teams for 48 minutes, but on others, they'd collapse at the perimeter and give up easy triples. That instability, which plagued the C's all season, finally became their downfall in the Eastern Conference Finals. If Boston is looking to get back to the NBA Finals, it'll have to keep its promise and not lose sight of defense at pivotal moments.
4. Kristaps Porzingis is feeling good
Porzingis, who stands tall at 7-foot-3, can help the C's on defense with his shot-blocking and on offense with his post-up game. Yet, none of that matters if the first-year Celtic can't stay healthy.
A variety of injury issues have followed Porzingis throughout his career. In New York, he tore his ACL, in Dallas, he had back and knee pain, and this summer he missed the FIBA World Cup because of plantar fasciitis.
In spite of all these red flags, Porzingis told the media that he was feeling good to go ahead of training camp.
“[My foot] is feeling great,” he announced. “No limitations…Perfectly fine and ready to go.”
The C's sacrificed a lot to bring Porzingis to Beantown, so not keeping him on the court would be disastrous. Fortunately, it sounds like the 2018 All-Star is on track to make his Celtics debut on Wednesday, October 25.
3. Jrue Holiday was too good to ignore
Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens kicked off Media Day by stating that going for Holiday was not always the plan. In fact, the trade was so unexpected that many Celtics players were surprised.
The whole saga was a bit of a domino effect because if seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard never got traded to Milwaukee, Holiday probably wouldn't have been available. Once he was moved to Portland, Stevens saw a golden opportunity to bring in a replacement for Smart who's talented on both sides of the ball.
“There's a list of guys you think you'll never have a real chance to get that are perfect fits. Jrue was one of those guys,” Stevens said. “You know the price was going to be really high. But he's a guy we think is a great fit for us.”
Although Holiday might not have been plan A, the two-time All-Star gives the Celtics greater guard depth and some championship pedigree. Prior to Holiday's addition, the C's didn't have anyone on the roster with an NBA title to their name.
While Holiday didn't participate in Media Day, Stevens let the press know that the 2021 NBA champion was already in Beantown and actually in the gym earlier than him.
“[Jrue] beat me to the gym today.” pic.twitter.com/kTXq1R6U9V
— Daniel Donabedian (@danield1214) October 2, 2023
2. The Celtics don't have a solidified starting lineup (yet)
If you were hoping for Mazzulla to list out Boston's starting five for the season opener, you're out of luck. However, he did mention that he wants to go back and forth with varying lineups of different sizes.
A double-big starting rotation could be a possibility for the Celtics, as they may lead with Brown, Tatum, and Holiday and feature Porzingis and Al Horford as their towering centers. When the Green Team wishes to go smaller, they could enlist Brown, Tatum, Holiday, Porzingis, and perhaps add guard Derrick White. Either way, the C's have a lot of options to play around with due to their versatile size and top-level talent.
Outside the top five is where things get tricky. The Celtics bench no longer has Brogdon, but rather point guard Payton Pritchard, shooter Svi Mykhailiuk, forward Oshae Brissett, and a collection of other players who'll battle for the final roster spots in training camp.
While the roster isn't as deep as usual, the Celtics will have an impressive starting five no matter what.
1. The Celtics are going all in
Perhaps the main message the Celtics sent this offseason (and during Media Day) is that they're all in.
Franchise players were traded, lots of money was guaranteed, and fans were upset by shocking moves. But, it's all in pursuit of a championship, and Stevens isn't afraid of the commitment.
When asked about the Holiday trade and his stash of draft picks, Stevens made the goal clear, via Jared Weiss of The Athletic.
“We're trying to win a championship,” Stevens said. “We're trying to be as good as we can be.”
It's a bit of a gamble, yet if the C's want to hit the jackpot and raise their first banner in over 15 years, they're going to run into some risk.