Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Celtics eager to get season going


AMHERST >> Of all the players on the Boston Celtics roster, only Marcus Smart didn't need a GPS to find the Mullins Center.

Smart and his Celtics teammates are hoping that they'll find a GPS that could lead them to an NBA title.

Smart wasn't a regular in Amherst, but he did come up to watch former UMass guard Trey Davis, a friend from their hometown of Dallas.

"It feels a little bit different," Smart said to me, when the Celtics visited the Mullins Center Tuesday night for a preseason game against Philadelphia. "I've been up here a couple of times to watch him."

Boston just won a home-and-home (sort of) series with Charlotte, and has four more preseason games before the regular season begins on Oct. 26. That's when the Brooklyn Nets visit TD Garden.

"I think I speak for everybody out here. I'm pumped" to be playing games, Smart said. "It's everything we've been working for and getting ready for, and talking about. It's exciting for us."

This is a Boston Celtics team unlike ones we've seen the past several seasons. Gone, apparently, are the underdog stories that had surrounded the rebuilding team. The rebuild isn't close to being finished, but basketball boss Danny Ainge has pieced together a team that a number of preseason experts say could be the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference, behind defending NBA champion Cleveland.

And if you are a Celtics fan, you might be most excited about two off-season acquisitions — free agent Al Horford and first-round pick Jaylen Brown. Horford signed in the off-season off the Atlanta Hawks roster. He is the first "big name" free agent to sign with the Celtics.

"I'm starting to get familiar with the sets and the plays. It's something that I have to keep working on," said Horford. "I have to catch up. I have to be better for the team."

With a lot of the depth Ainge has developed, Brown might not be counted on to do a lot for the Celtics right off the bat.

Horford, for one, likes what he has seen so far in Brown.

"His body and his ability to play multiple positions is going to be real helpful for us," said Horford.

The forward, who played one year at California before declaring for the 2016 NBA Draft, won't start for Boston. It's hard to crack a lineup with Horford, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder in the starting unit. But he might work his way up to being one of the first frontcourt players off the bench.

Brown is 6-foot-7, so not your prototypical power forward. He told a gathering of reporters after Tuesday's game that he's comfortable there.

"Wherever coach [Brad Stevens] needs me to play, it's part of being versatile. Part of versatility is being ready when somebody calls your name," Brown said. "You're a rookie, so you can't really have no excuses, like 'nah, I don't want to play the four.'

"If he wants me to play the four, I'm there."

Last year's team made the NBA Playoffs, but lost to Horford's Hawks in a first-round series. Many in New England thought the Celtics could have made a run to the Eastern Conference championship.

This group of Celtics knows what happened last year. But Marcus Smart said, as did many others, that last year was last year.

"We're over it in the fact that it's over and done with and you've got to move on. It's a new year," Smart said. "We've got to focus on what we can control this year."

If the Celtics can control their destiny, it could be a very interesting year in New England.

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.


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