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Celtics practice report: Jaylen Brown, Al Horford eased into new surroundings on first day 09.27.16 at 12:49 pm ET
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Al Horford

Al Horford

WALTHAM — The Celtics had about 90 minutes to get a feel for each other, with their first of two practice sessions Tuesday. There was little impact, and “a lot of five-on-zero” said head coach Brad Stevens in describing the morning’s events.

Jaylen Brown, who admitted he got little sleep Monday night due to excitement, showing up to the practice facility 3-4 hours early Tuesday, doled out pass from the elbow to the perimeter with precision and showed good finesse around the rim while partnering up well with Jonas Jerebko during pass-and-shoot drills.

“It was good, I’m just glad to be out here,” Brown said. “I’m learning a lot, a lot of different things today. It’s exciting, you know first day of practice it’s a new journey. I’m happy to be here and I’m having a good time.”

A frequent topic of conversation was the iPads the team hands out so players can take a look at plays. Each player is distributed one of the tablets, which are frequently updated with plays and schemes for them to study. 

“Probably just as much time as I spend at the gym, probably twice as much,” Brown said when asked how much time he’ll spend going through the iPad. “Understanding the game and just trying to speed up that learning curve. Everybody plays the game differently so just trying to speed up my learning curve and learn as much as possible so I can be ready.

“I’m looking forward to the new challenge but I know it’s going to take time, but that’s a very important thing is speeding up my learning curve.”

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Read More: Al Horford, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown
Gerald Green coming back to Boston changed player, man 09.27.16 at 11:23 am ET
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Gerald Green

Gerald Green

When Gerald Green took part in his first professional Media Day, he was fresh out of high school in Houston, 19-years-old and a member of the Celtics. He was once again a member of the Celtics when he took the podium Monday, much different than the kid who took the podium 11 years ago.

“I was fresh out of high school so I didn’t really know any better,” said Green. “Now, this is my 12th season professionally so I’m very mature now. I still got a lot in the tank. Legs feel good, everything feels good about myself. I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself. I feel like I’m way better defensive player. I know I’m a way better defensive player than when I first came here. I know all the schemes and terminology. I just can’t wait for [camp to begin].”

Green exited Boston as part of the trade that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston after his second professional season. Since his departure, he’s become the epitome of a journeyman, playing for seven NBA different teams, along with a two-year stint in Russia.

“It’s a great feeling to be back. I’ve been telling everyone since I’ve been back that I never really had hard feelings. Shoot, I would trade myself for Kevin Garnett, too,” he said. “There’s never been any hard feelings at all. I don’t think I left on bad terms. For me to be back here to be playing for the city that has drafted me after all these years, after all of the years that I’ve learned, it’s good to finally be back.”

The stint in Russia vtook a toll on Green. While the situation geographically was not ideal, it was further affirmation that he was an NBA player, not someone with NBA experience that should be buried overseas.

Since his time in Russia, he has been a serviceable contributor, averaging 11.4 points per game with a 42.1 percent field goal percentage since coming back to the States in 2011.

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Celtics teammates impressed by Terry Rozier’s newfound confidence 09.27.16 at 11:01 am ET
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Terry Rozier (12) points to Al Horford (42) during a light moment during Celtics media day (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Terry Rozier points to Al Horford in a light moment during Celtics media day. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — Terry Rozier appears to be ready to take on a larger role with the Celtics this season. The confident young point guard is coming into his own, and his teammates have noticed the strides he’s made throughout the offseason.

Rozier points to the playoff opportunity he received against the Hawks last year as a catalyst to his newfound confidence. He played five games, averaging 4.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 19.8 minutes. It was the kind of experience Rozier — as a rookie — believes he needed.

“I feel that anytime a rookie can get on the floor and play in the playoffs, it feels like a boost going into the next season. So that definitely played a big factor,” Rozier said at Monday’s media day. “I’m just excited for next season.

[I’m] just mainly more comfortable out there. I know that myself, if I’m comfortable playing this game that I love, then I’ll be fine. I can just about play with anybody. So just slowing my mind down and just being comfortable out there and just relax and play.”

One teammate who has noticed Rozier’s great offseason is Marcus Smart. When he was asked about the team’s vacant sixth man role, Smart mentioned Rozier as one of the lead reserves the Celtics have coming off their bench.

“With the absence of Evan, he’s going to be missed here. The things he brought to the team, he created his own jump shot. He created for others,” Smart said. “Everybody else understands the role that he left us with and we have to step up as a team, I have to step up as an individual, but this team has to step up. And there’s a lot of players. We’ve got guys coming off the bench like Terry Rozier, who’s been real good in the offseason. And as you guys saw in the summer league, he’s been playing his butt off.”

Even Al Horford — who has only played with Rozier for a month — is impressed with the strides Rozier has made. In talking about the Celtics’ young players, Horford singled out the second-year guard as one of his teammates who improved their game from last season.

“There’s a lot of the younger guys who were very, very athletic,” Horford told reporters Monday. “Guys that have definitely gotten better — Jae Crowder came in and played with us one day and his 3-point shot has gotten better. That was good to see. I was encouraged by Terry as well. He’s looked good all month. It just excited me to see that a lot of these guys are making progress in their game.”

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Can Marcus Smart step in and fill shoes of Evan Turner as 6th man? ‘If that’s what team needs me to do’ 09.27.16 at 10:27 am ET
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WALTHAM — The Celtics have an abundance of options in their backcourt. 

Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley come into camp as the two players projected to be the starting backcourt, with Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter and rookie pick Demetrius Jackson in the wings. 

Then there’s Marcus Smart. The 22-year-old point guard in his third year out of Oklahoma State could be in store for a breakout season. 

One reason the Celtics let Evan Turner leave for greener pastures in Portland is because they think they have the perfect sixth man candidate to step in and take his place. It would appear Smart will get a chance to fill that role early on in the season. There’s been rumors that the Celtics are shopping Avery Bradley, which might or might not impact Smart’s role. 

Along with Bradley, Smart is considered one of the best and most physical perimeter defenders in the East. He also has shown the ability to handle bigger bodies in the low post (like when he was called on to slow down Atlanta’s Paul Millsap in Games 3 and 4.). 

This could be the year Smart takes that next step. But as it stands now, he’ll still likely be doing it as the first man off Brad Stevens’ bench. And that’s OK with him. 

“If that’s what this team needs me to do, then that’s the role I’ll take,” Smart said Monday during media day. “With the absence of Evan, he’s going to be missed here. The things he brought to the team, he created his own jump shot. He created for others. Everybody else understands the role that he left us with and we have to step up as a team, I have step up as an individual, but this team has to step up. And there’s a lot of players.

“We’ve got guys coming off the bench like Terry Rozier, who’s been real good in the offseason. And as you guys saw in the summer league, he’s been playing his butt off. Everybody has to step up and everybody understands that.” 

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Brad Stevens isn’t about to look ahead to the playoffs: ‘There’s a lot of hard work in front of us’ 09.27.16 at 9:51 am ET
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Sep 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during media day at the Boston Celtic Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens shows his laser focus during media day. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — Brad Stevens knows there’s a ton of work to be done between now and the beginning of April. 

That’s why he laughs when he’s asked about what his expectations are for making the playoffs and advancing this season. 

Entering his fourth season, Stevens has taken his team from 25 to 40 to 48 wins and playoff berths in each of the last two seasons. The natural assumption, with the additions of free agents Al Horford and Gerald Green and first rounder Jaylen Brown, is that a 50-win season with a deep playoff run is in store. 

Then the Celtics coach, on media day on Monday, reminded everyone of what he told his team before the media session began.  

“See, I’m a basketball coach so I don’t really – I know certainly I want to do my job as well as I can to make sure that we are improving every day and are striving for that ultimate objective. We have a long way to go to be considering talking about any of that stuff.

“And to be quite frank as I told our team real briefly before we walked out here, there was not a lot of room between finishing 10th and second last year in the East. Ultimately we want to be the best, we want to be among those considered the best. There’s a lot of hard work ahead of us, and it’s day by day. I don’t feel any more pressure from what ultimately happens. I’m making sure that practice tomorrow is structured right.”

To Stevens’ point, the Celtics finished tied with the Hornets, Hawks and Heat with 48 wins. The ninth place team were the Bulls with 42 wins and the tenth-place Wizards won 40. The 40 wins would’ve been good enough for seventh seed two seasons ago, the spot the Celtics found themselves in. But not last year. And the East is quickly improving. 

“My expectations never change,” Stevens said. “It’s all about getting tomorrow and making sure we’re as good as we can be. It’s a very simple, boring process but it’s the way that I go about it. And I think that the results take care of themselves.”

 What would be a successful season?

“Being better the next day. That’s my perspective,” Stevens said in his best Bill Belichick tone. “The one thing I’ve been asked about – last week I got asked about a number of wins goal, I got asked about a playoff goal or a playoff rounds goal or whatever the case may be – right when you define something as success and you reach it, you don’t go any further. You set the limit for your team.

“And I’m certainly not into setting ceilings. And I think that’s why you focus on what you can do and try to put your best foot forward. And go into that next game, and if you do that you can win the game. And that’s my job.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich
Isaiah Thomas improves diet, consults with Harvard ‘sleep doctor’ this offseason 09.27.16 at 8:29 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas has made lifestyle changes that he thinks will carry over to the court (Josue Pavon/WEEI.com)

Isaiah Thomas has made lifestyle changes that he hopes will carry over to the court. (Josue Pavon/WEEI.com)

WALTHAM — Isaiah Thomas has been in the NBA long enough to know just how important health and conditioning is during the offseason. At Monday’s media day, he told reporters how the changes he’s made will make him a better player this year.

Entering his sixth season, Thomas sounded like a seasoned veteran in discussing the changes he’s made in his eating habits and sleeping pattern as he aims to extend his career to the age of 40.

“I changed my diet,” Thomas said. “I hired a personal chef back home, and I’m eating vegetables for the first time since when my dad used to make me. I eliminated fast food. You guys have heard it before — I want to play until I’m 40, and I know it starts with little things like that. Last week I got in contact with Dr. Z [Charles Czeisler] over there at Harvard, the ‘Sleep Doctor.’ I’m trying to learn how to sleep longer and sleep more. Not only am I going to eat healthier, I’m going to get a lot of sleep. Instead of watching TV and playing video games, I have to learn to get more sleep. That will help me be a better basketball player. Those are the little things I am trying to figure out. The older I get, the more I’m trying to figure those little things out to be a better basketball player. It’s not all on the court.”

Thomas also admitted that he’s still bitter over last year’s first-round playoff exit against the Hawks. He explained how he’s never given so much effort on the basketball court like he did in the playoffs, and that he’s using last season as motivation heading into the 2016-17 season.

“Whole offseason that’s all I thought about,” Thomas said. “Losing that series left a bad taste in all of our mouths. We want to get past that first round. I do, I know that. I want to go further. We have a good team, and people to make that happen. Last season hurt me especially because that’s the first time I can say I gave everything I had. I had no more left in me, and that’s why I hurt so much. Having everybody back for another year, we’re looking for bigger and better things. What that may be we don’t know, but hopefully we can jell faster than we did last year with the additions we have on this team.”

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Finally wearing Celtics uniform, Al Horford has his new team giddy with anticipation 09.26.16 at 10:46 pm ET
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Al Horford does the rounds at Celtics Media Day. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford does the rounds at Celtics media day. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — All the Celtics of recent memory have heard is that they’re just missing “that” piece. There’s no exact definition of what that piece is, but there is belief that Al Horford is said piece.

He can run the floor, play defense in the low post, step out and shoot 3-pointers, play strong around the rim and grab rebounds in the process — nearly all things the C’s needed to address this offseason. And while his addition came at the cost of $113 million over four seasons, it appears that if he continues the trend that has defined a successful nine-year career, he will help the Celtics take another step forward.

“He’s going to open the floor for everybody,” Avery Bradley said at Celtics media day Monday. “He’s a great player on the offensive end, defensive end. He knows how to play the game of basketball. To have him be a part of this team, I’m just happy about it.”

Added Celtics president Danny Ainge (who was exceptionally giddy throughout his press conference): “As much as anything he’s been very consistent over his career. Shooting the ball, playing multiple positions. He’s a guy that fits in with our system with big guys handling the ball a lot.”

With the hefty contract Horford signed, and the track record he’s had in his career, the 30-year-old Dominican is being fancied as the shepherd to take the Celtics to the promised land. And while it may be steep to put that all on Horford — especially on a team-centric squad like the Celtics — his all-around skill should fit into the C’s system.

“We’re not asking Al to be anything more than him,” coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s a good fit for how we play on offense. He’s a good fit for how we play on defense. He’s a professional. He has a routine. He works hard at his craft. He’s a guy that guys can follow by example.”

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