CANTON, Mass. — As the Boston Celtics convened for media day here Monday, there was an obvious theme: This season’s edition is going to be different than the previous one.
“We’re ready for a fresh start,” Jayson Tatum told ESPN.
And at least on Monday, it truly felt like one.
It was only one day — and, it should be said, media day always has a first-day-of-school vibe to it — but even in their first hours together, these Celtics seemed to have an energy and enthusiasm that was glaringly absent from last season’s campaign. While last year’s team — moments of drama aside — got along personally, it rarely, if ever, felt like anything other than a businesslike atmosphere.
Some of that could be attributed to the team’s two leaders, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford — neither of whom is a fiery personality. Some of it also could be attributed to the expectations that hung over the Celtics last season, when Boston was expected to make it to the NBA Finals.
“I think everyone expected us, and they kind of just handed us, that we were going to walk to the Finals,” Gordon Hayward told ESPN. “That’s just not the case — especially in this league.”
Now, of course, Irving and Horford are gone — and with them, those championship expectations. This year, Boston is one of the teams looking up at the two heavyweights atop the East: the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. Last year, losing to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals was a disappointment.
The same outcome this year, on the other hand, would be seen as a more than respectable outcome.
The combination of those things means Boston comes into this season sort of flying under the radar in the Eastern Conference. And if Monday was any indication, the Celtics will be just fine with that.
Enes Kanter came to his meeting with the media with a tray of cookies to give out, saying he wanted to make sure he got on the media’s good side on his first day — though he admitted he didn’t make them himself.
“I wish I was that talented,” he said with a smile.
Marcus Smart, meanwhile, went through his various promotional stations Monday wearing a bathrobe with a large green shamrock on it over his Celtics jersey, and rookie Grant Williams was hamming it up all over the place, jumping in pictures and TV shots, flashing smiles and cracking jokes to anyone who would listen.
None of that guarantees that Boston will be improved. After all, part of the reason the expectations here are lower than in the past is that the Celtics lost Irving and, especially, Horford, one of the most versatile big men in the NBA and someone the Celtics basically couldn’t replace.
But virtually every person who spoke Monday insisted repeatedly that this year is going to be different and that it’s time to move on from last year’s disappointment.
“I guess the outlook I have on it is it’s a new day and a new opportunity,” Smart told ESPN. “We tried it, and things just didn’t work.
“We learned from those [things], and now we know what to do so we hopefully don’t make those same mistakes.”
A positive outlook alone, however, won’t solve the many complicated questions that still face the Celtics heading into the season. Walker will have to deal with comparisons to Irving all season. There remains the glaring issue of filling Horford’s massive shoes at center, where some combination of Kanter, second-year big Robert Williams, Frenchman Vincent Poirier and Daniel Theis will fill 48 minutes. The same complications that came from trying to get enough touches for Irving, Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum last season still exist now that Walker is here running the point instead.
That said, feeling good about showing up to work every day isn’t a bad place to start. And if Monday is any indication, however long this Celtics season lasts, it has the makings of being a much more enjoyable one for the Celtics.