This year's preseason camp feels a bit different for the Boston Celtics. It's not because Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, or a few other members of last year's team aren't there; or the many new faces, like Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, are starting to arrive -- it's because the franchise's alumni are showing up.
Celtics second-year head coach Joe Mazzulla envisioned something different for this upcoming season: He wanted to help "build a brotherhood." Over the summer, Mazzulla started to get in touch with some of the Celtics greats, wanting to get the Boston legends more involved with the team. After sending an email to all Celtics alumni, his vision became a reality.
"I sent an email out to all the Celtic former players because I felt like it’s important that we share in this experience together," Mazzulla said.
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Former players have an open invitation to join practices, games, flights, and team dinners.
"They started this tradition, they kept it going, and now it’s our responsibility as an organization to keep it alive.”
Mazzulla seems to be going back to what being a Celtic is all about, building on the pride and tradition that is so deeply rooted in the city of Boston.
"The past should be the banners, but it should be the people, and so I thought it was extremely important that any and every Celtic is welcome to a practice or a game so that we can build that brotherhood of what we are.”
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Over the past few days of camp, the Celtics have welcomed former Celtics champions Tom "Satch" Sanders, Eddie House, Leon Powe and Paul Pierce. Boston's current assistant coach, Sam Cassell, was teammates was House, Powe and Pierce as well.
Pierce, a key member of the 2008 championship-winning team, was all for it.
“I think that's what it should be all about. It’s always been that way since I've been in the organization, and I love that Joe has reached out to me and some of the other guys to be around more and not only just coming to the games, but coming to practice, you know, you can travel with the team and be around the team a little bit more because that's how it was when I played," Pierce said.
"Every time I looked up, Tommy Heinsohn, he was always there. And then we look up and see John Havlicek, Bill Russell, Cousy. It just brought a certain energy to the building whenever I saw those guys in practice or at the game. So, I think it kind of continues the brotherhood. It's all part of our culture and that is something that the Celtics have always been about.”
That certain energy is back, and it was noticed and felt by all in attendance, Jayson Tatum included.
“It’s great having the older guys around. Just their presence and being around, being able to talk to them, being able to see them, it’s great,” said the four-time NBA All-Star.
Tatum and Pierce are no strangers to each other, either. Tatum dedicated the offseason to improving his game, where he spent time with the Celtic legend improving his craft.
"He [Pierce] told us a lot of stories about the championship team, a lot of things we’ll try to help apply to this year,” Tatum added.
Pierce also noted the fact that he could tell this Celtic group was different.
"These guys are coming in with high expectations and they understand that. And you can see it. Guys are getting here early. I mean, the practices are intense, you can see how hard they're going. Not as much talking as our team, we had a loud team, but you can just see in the habits before, during and after, you see guys getting extra shots up in the room, you can just feel it in the air.”
Coming off of a crushing series loss against the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, this team knows they need to do better, and it's clear they are making every effort to improve. For Mazzulla, it's clear his first plan is to change the mentality: much like the Celtic greats that came before, this is a team that can do something special.