The Celtics are 19-5 start and have won 13 straight at TD Garden to start the 2023-24 season, following the plethora of changes this past summer.
Brad Stevens, who was not pleased with how Boston's playoff run ended with a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last May, pulled the trigger on two major moves to a acquire veterans Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. On top of roster changes, Stevens also added Sam Cassell and Charles Lee to Joe Mazzulla's coaching staff to help solidify a team with already high championship aspirations.
"He's done an amazing job," ex-Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said during an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston. "They have good coaching, great management, great ownership, great players. Celtics top to bottom are sitting pretty in this league right now. They have shooting -- maybe the best shooting in the NBA. I like their team a lot."
Ainge, now the CEO of basketball operations for the Utah Jazz, was responsible for the foundation of the current Celtics roster that has been built to win a championship -- when he traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets for first-round picks that turned into Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Despite Ainge not being able to raise another banner in Boston beyond 2008, even with Brown and Tatum in the fold during a rather quick rebuild following the end of the new 'Big-3' era, it hasn't stopped the former Celtics executive from admiring even from afar -- the development of the star duo that have now become All-NBA caliber players.
"I love watching their team play," Ainge said of Brown and Tatum. "Not just because I was involved with that team, but because I like who they are as people, as players. They're not perfect, but they're so good and so talented and so confident."
While Stevens has proven to be aggressive in his approach of improving the roster since taking over as Ainge's successor as the Celtics president of basketball operations, the team has not only clinched an NBA Finals berth in 2022, but have been the favorites to win it all last season and again this year.
However, it seems Ainge's only somewhat concern is health, especially as it pertains to the C's playing on the opposite side of the ball, saying "you do worry about the defense a little bit, if they have an injury somewhere." But, he still likes their changes with their depth even if players could be out for any amount of time.
"I do like their bench, their depth, their size," Ainge said. "They are never too small because Tatum and Brown are good sized for a three and a four [small forward and power forward] or a two and a three [shooting guard and small forward]. I like their team, a lot."
Mazzulla hasn't been shy with using and testing out different lineups so far this season, such was the case in Friday night's 128-111 victory over the Orlando Magic. The short-handed Celtics went small for most of the night, as Porzingis (calf), Al Horford (rest) and even Luke Kornet were all out and Lamar Stevens started at center -- while Neemias Queta also played 18 minutes off the bench in the impressive win to remain the only unbeaten team at home.
Still, even with the great start to the season, Ainge has some advice to Brown and Tatum as the Celtics continue to improve and possibly win that elusive 18th NBA championship for this storied franchise.
"Just trust each other," Ainge said on one piece of advice for them to get over the hump and win the Finals. "A lot of times when things aren't going well, when you have great players like Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum] who can get easy baskets, that's the tendency, to try and get them easier than you need to."When things aren't going well, they have such great shooting and spot up shots by White, and Sam [Hauser], and Pritchard, and Jrue [Holiday], and Porzingis -- those are great shots anytime they get an open look. I just think that trust on the offensive end, and keep moving the ball, and trust in what you're doing."
The Celtics will look to win their 20th game of the young season and sweep a five-game homestand when they host the Magic once again this afternoon in a matinee tip-off.
Photo used courtesy of The Boston Herald
Photo used courtesy of The Boston Herald