President of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers insisted that they hold training camp there, hoping to build chemistry on a team full of new faces. Superstars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett had joined forces with Paul Pierce. Eddie House, James Posey and (most important of all) Scot Pollard had also signed with Boston in the offseason.
The team needed to get away, get to know one another, build a rapport.
They ate meals together. They toured the Vatican, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. They all shaved their heads and ate salmon and mashed potatoes in London.
And it worked. Italy, after all, became the birthplace of "Ubuntu," the Celts' team-first mentality and rally cry before each game of 2007-08 season — one that ended with Boston’s 17th NBA title.
This offseason, in many ways, has mirrored that fateful summer of 2007. While the Big Three-plus-Rajon Rondo is intact, it is yet again a season of new faces.
Out with Tony Allen, Michael Finley, Brian Scalabrine, Rasheed Wallace and Shelden Williams. In with Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Delonte West, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody, Avery Bradley (and one other, likely Stephane Lasme or Von Wafer).
And as in 2007, the Celtics are going to extraordinary lengths to knit those newcomers into the fabric of Ubuntu.
No, they're not traveling overseas as before, a decision that has garnered a fair amount of flak from Pierce.
"I think it would be good for this group to get away," he said back in September. "I'm really getting tired of Newport, [R.I., where camp is normally held]. Really, I want to go somewhere else … When you've got new guys and these types of personalities, I think it's good for all of us to get out, be at a dinner table — me, Shaq, Kevin, Ray, Jermaine. I think it would be good for that relationship, building that chemistry."
The captain didn't get his wish. Danny held the camp in Newport. But that's not to say the team hasn't found other ways to build that chemistry.
Doc rented a duck boat tour last weekend to get the guys away from the court and give them a taste of their new home. Afterward, the players went out together for a movie, an advanced screening of "Due Date." This weekend, Rondo organized a softball game at Fenway Park. Pierce, who just got married and signed a contract extension, still called it "one of the best days of my life." Jermaine, who's missed the last week of the preseason with a hamstring injury, jacked a home run in his first at-bat.
"We came together as a group," J.O. said of the day. "And guys are really pushing each other and letting each other know they’re [here] for each other. That’s what’s great about this process so far."
The question with all these team-building exercises is whether or not they work. Does cramming the guys into a duck boat or letting them run around like giddy 10-year-old kids in the shadow of the Green Monster really make them any more capable of winning?
The answer, it would seem, lies in the team's play to this point in the season.
Through three preseason games, Boston is undefeated. While the record is irrelevant, the show of chemistry and hustle is not. They're passing the ball, logging 21 and 23 assists in their last two outings. The defense? Vintage, allowing just 81 points a game
And the new guys aren't missing a beat. Jermaine, in his first tilt Sunday, logged three blocks in just eight minutes. Through three games, Shaq is averaging a very efficient nine points and a block in limited play. West has found his rhythm after back spasms, scoring 12 and 11 on a total 10-of-16 shooting in his last two outings. Perhaps most impressive has been the play of Erden, who has shown good athleticism and a great low-post passing touch for a 7-footer.
The Celtics, in the end, are a defense-first team. Communication is key to success on that side of the floor. Ask KG, the most vocal, foul-mouthed player in the country. Without chemistry, communication and trust become difficult to find.
"From top to bottom, everybody likes one another. It's fun when we do things like that," Garnett said this weekend, referring to the softball game. "Because it builds our chemistry and our team bonding."
The Celtics understand that. And they're doing all they can to establish Ubuntu early — so they can relive the 2007-08 season in more ways than one.
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