Irving's Celtics eager to embrace favourites' tag
The band is back together in Boston. Or, at least, it's healthy again. Hopes were high for the Celtics going into last season thanks to a revamped roster that included All-Star additions Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
Everything changed five minutes into the season with Hayward's gruesome leg injury. Expectations changed again late in the season when Irving was also lost for the year following a pair of knee surgeries.
Without them, Boston finished the regular season with 55 wins and made the Eastern Conference finals. A Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers ended a playoff run that saw veteran leadership from Al Horford, the emergence of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as budding stars, and growth from Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was able to keep the group intact during the offseason, re-signing the most vulnerable asset in Smart.
This preseason brought more welcome news when Irving publicly proclaimed his desire to stay in Boston. He stood at midcourt at the TD Garden and told a group of season ticket holders: "If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here."
The collection of talent makes the Celtics presumptive favourites in the East with LeBron James no longer lurking in Cleveland.
Coach Brad Stevens said that his job would be to harness the energy on this roster, not restrict what guys do.
"We don't want to set limits or ceilings on people," he said.
It was made "very clear," Irving said that during his time in Cleveland that he wasn't the face of the franchise. Entering his eighth NBA season, he has openly referred to himself as the leader of this young Celtics team.
His teammates, including Horford, are happy to grant that stature to the five-time All-Star who won a title with Cleveland. Irving said that being around a group so hungry drives him.
"It gives me a lot of confidence as the quarterback of the team," Irving said.