It depends on the team, from year to year. Sometimes training camp is about physical fitness. Sometimes it's about X's and O's. Sometimes it's about the nitty-gritty stuff, getting down to business and working like a dog every practice to prepare for the grueling regular season.
And sometimes, it's about competition.
The Celtics have more than a few guys who will show up to camp this week unsure of their roles for next season. So don't be surprised if when the team opens up practice on Tuesday afternoon in Newport, R.I., the workout sessions are a little more intense than usual. A lot of the C's are fighting for their jobs.
"That's good," head coach Doc Rivers said. "The competition for minutes is always good. But then after the competition is over, you have to make sure the guys who are getting minutes and the guys who are not getting the minutes still want to be on the same team and work together. That's always a big factor, and it'll be a factor this year."
When the Celtics begin the process this week of ironing out the wrinkles in their roster, they'll have two different competitions on their hands. One is the race among the Celtics' role players, to see who earns top billing on Doc's bench — the other, higher-stakes battle is among the fringe players fighting for a chance to make the roster at all.
"We're constantly evaluating players," said Danny Ainge, president of basketball operations. "Sometimes you bring guys in to camp that have a very realistic chance of making the team, and sometimes it's just a furthering of the evaluation process."
The C's have a lot of guys who are long shots to make the active roster. Tony Gaffney and Oliver Lafayette were brought in last April on non-guaranteed contracts; Lafayette has since been waived, and Gaffney remains on the bubble to make the team. Semih Erden has a two-year deal with the C's after impressing during his time in Turkey; it remains to be seen whether the young center will make the roster. Luke Harangody, Ainge's second-round draft pick, and Von Wafer, a late free-agent signing, both have uncertain futures as well. And then there's a trio of recent camp invitees — Stephane Lasme, Jamar Smith and Chris Johnson — who remain without contracts and will be lucky to play a minute in Boston this season.
Then there's the other group — the guys fighting for more minutes off the bench. Wafer, assuming he makes the team, will be competing for minutes at shooting guard with Delonte West, Nate Robinson, Marquis Daniels and Avery Bradley. Harangody may make the the C's roster, but he's far from the only young big man looking to make an impact — Erden and Glen Davis are standing in his way.
And then there's the case of Shaquille O'Neal, who's played 1,170 NBA games in his career and has started 1,161 of them. Try telling him to take a backseat — even if Jermaine O'Neal and (once healthy) Kendrick Perkins are more than qualified to take on the bulk of the C's minutes at center.
Clearly, Doc has a lot of work to do with making sure his guys will accept diminished roles.
"We have major concerns," the coach said. "But listen, if everybody's in it for the right reasons, there's no problem. And if anybody's not in it for the right reasons, then there's always a problem. We'll find out soon if we have any of those. I don't think we will.
"Everyone says the right things in August. Heck, I could get the best player in the NBA and say, 'Hey, I'm going to play you 10 minutes,' and he'll agree to it in August. But when the ball flies up in the air, that's a whole different story."
Between now and Oct. 26, when they open up their regular season at home against the Miami Heat, the Celtics have a lot of questions to answer about how everything will come together. The hope is that ultimately, they're all working for the common good.
"Each guy is his own guy, his own man, and is going to make everybody better," Robinson said. "That's all I can really take from that. Each guy knows how to play the game, and we all know how to work things out, and Doc knows what he's doing. With this team, you've got a lot of vets that know how to play the game and know how to sacrifice. And that's the beauty of this team — each guy can sacrifice to help make this team get where it needs to go."