BOSTON -- There has been an undeniable energy inside the Auerbach Center as the Boston Celtics launch into training camp this week. Something that transcends the hope-springs-eternal vibes that exist in 29 other cities this fall.
The eve-of-camp acquisition of point guard Jrue Holiday delivered another lightning-bolt jolt of excitement for a team that already felt confident about its place in the league entering the 2023-24 season. Holiday was cleared to practice for the first time Wednesday and Celtics brass swooned in the aftermath.
Owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca openly gushed about the intensity of the team’s first workouts with Holiday in green. Brad Stevens did his best to temper the suggestion by noting how sloppy some of the scrimmaging was but couldn’t help but admit, “We made a thousand mistakes but you could also see, like, there’s that thing there, right?”
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Maybe the presence of 2008 champion Paul Pierce only amplified the excitement. The Celtics added two All-Star players to the core this offseason in Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, which will lead to comparisons with how Boston brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to town.
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“It was an emotional reaction but it was an authentic reaction,” Grousbeck said at Holiday’s introductory presser. "It’s how I really felt. I remember in 2008 when that team got put together, that feeling when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen walked in for the practice and joined everyone else, and all of a sudden, things just felt different.
"Paul Pierce was here today trying to bring some of that magic, and he brought a lot of joy and energy to it. I just want to say there was a real feeling of optimism."
Maybe the most important part of that 2008 team finding immediate and sustained success was each player’s willingness to sacrifice a bit of their typical stat line for the betterment of the team.
For his part, Holiday, who just smiled wide as Celtics brass overflowed with giddiness, says he’s willing to do that.
“Whatever they need, I'll do,” Holiday told NBC Sports Boston. “Obviously, last year, being an All-Star for the second time, bulk of the year, having the ball and making decisions and putting the ball in the basket, it's probably going to be different.
"We have two great, great scorers (in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown). Guys down the stretch who we’ll be going to. And there might be times where maybe I need to do that, but for the most part, I know that in certain areas of my game I'm going to have to take a backseat.
"Honestly, I'm here to win. I feel like whatever it takes to win, that's what I'll do.”
In acquiring Holiday, the Celtics add a champion to their locker room, someone who knows how hard it is to win a title. His arrival in Milwaukee helped propel the Bucks to the 2021 title. Now he’s being tasked with helping other young stars get over the final hump and secure the championship that has evaded this core for the past half decade.
Holiday is eager to help Tatum and Brown take that final step.
"Hopefully I can kind of instill in them, or even just talk to them and tell them like how hard it really is,” said Holiday of winning a championship. “You don’t know how hard it is until you've gone through it. I mean, they've been close and they've been close in doing it for a long time, but maybe I just bring some experience that can help them in certain situations, kind of give us the advantage in certain situations, where it just makes the game easier for them.
“And they are our two best players and the guys that we're going to rely on.”
The Celtics’ offseason was book-ended by two emotional trades. Stevens has repeatedly noted how hard it was to deal both Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III in the quest to acquire Holiday and Porzingis. But it’s undeniable that Boston now has as much top-end talent as any team in the league. The Celtics have arguably the best top six in the NBA.
Holiday’s new Celtics teammates have gushed about him and how he can elevate the team’s play. But Holiday is just as effusive in his praise. Told that Porzingis had noted about how Holiday might be the only guard in the league who could consistently defend him near the basket, Holiday was quick to return the praise.
"I'm glad that I'm on his side. I'm glad that I'm here with him,” said Holiday. “He's a 7-foot assassin. He can shoot it from anywhere on the court.
"I think people maybe, just over the years, have forgotten about how great of a player that he is and the things that he's done in this league. So being here with him and trying to build that chemistry as quickly as possible, because I'm late to the game, is something that we're trying to do.”
Stevens made it clear after acquiring Holiday that he was hopeful for a partnership that extends beyond this season. The 33-year-old holds a $37.3 million player option for next season, which could open the door to an extension further down the road. The Celtics moved quickly to sign Porzingis to a two-year, $60 million extension after his arrival.
“I feel like, from the time that I landed here, it's been nothing but top notch. It's been first class,” said Holiday. "Obviously, the storied history of this organization, and maybe there's pressure that applies, but it's good to have a little bit of pressure. Just Brad expressing that [long-term desire] constantly to me, it isn't really pressure. It really just justifies or solidifies maybe how I felt about my game and what I want to do in this league.
“I really can come here and make a difference and try to uncover [the next championship banner].”
Championships are not won on Day 2 of training camp and players have stressed that everyone involved has to be committed to the day-to-day march towards that goal. But the excitement gushing from the Auerbach Center made it clear that anything less than a championship will leave this team unfulfilled.
The question that can’t be answered on Day 2 is whether everyone will make the sacrifices necessary to achieve that ultimate goal. But Holiday is emphatic that winning is his No. 1 priority.
Maybe that’s why everyone is so giddy around here.
Check out Forsberg's full conversation with Holiday on the Celtics Talk Podcast or on YouTube below.