BRIGHTON — For Celtics co-Governors Wyc Grousbeck and Stephen Pagliuca, the Auerbach Center, the team’s practice facility in Brighton, bred an aura of familiarity during training camp on Tuesday as the arrival of Jrue Holiday granted Celtics’ brass, including president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, a first glimpse of the 2023-24 Celtics.
Anticipating Holiday’s arrival for his first day of camp and an appearance from legend Paul Pierce added to the buzz of Day 2 of training camp, but that wasn’t what rekindled a special feeling for Grousbeck and Pagliuca. The two co-governors took on ownership of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises in 2002.
They remember what camp was like when Pierce was in uniform as one-third of the league’s newest ‘Big 3’ and not a special guest. From its inception, it was the season when everything changed from the team’s competitive spirit in preparation and connectivity to the intensity felt from the sidelines.
Watching this year’s Celtics team take the floor and compete against one another for the first time brought back a similar feel.
“I remember 2008 when that team got put together; that feeling when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen walked into practice to join everybody else, and all of a sudden, things just felt different,” Grousbeck explained after Holiday’s formal introduction to Boston. “Paul Pierce was here today trying to bring some of that magic, and he brought a lot of joy and energy to it. I just want to say there was a real feeling of optimism and also, I think, annoyance. We’ve been in what? Five conference finals in the last six or seven years. We’ve been knocking on the door.”
It’s been 15 years since the Celtics raised their last championship banner. The building blocks started with a vision along with a new G.M. in Danny Ainge in 2003 and eventually yielded trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the summer of 2007 and a championship in 2008.
Participating in his first practice with his new team, Holiday also felt the team’s intensity and focus, led by its All-Star duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“You can tell that they were hungry and really about the things that maybe didn’t work last year, but making them better this year; that’s just from watching,” Holiday said after camp, during his press conference. “And then, going out there and actually playing with them, because I’ve played against them for so long, it felt great. It felt great to get out there and compete. We know our best players are the most competitive ones, and they’re kind of leading the charge. J.T. & J.B. were out there after people defensively. I know how it can be being a two-way player, but I think for us to be a great team. Obviously, those two are going to carry us along a lot of the way.”
As a member of the 2021 champion Bucks, Jrue brings a championship pedigree to the ringless Celtics core.
“There’s definitely a hunger that I love,” Holiday said. “There’s this hunger to be the best that you can individually and as a team. And, I think when you have that, you always have a chance of winning, being that competitive. And you can feel it in the locker room.”
In the days leading to his trade to Boston, Jrue admitted he wished for the Trail Blazers/Celtics trade would eventually materialize but didn’t want to get his hopes up in fear of disappointing himself. Now, he’s settled in and focused on basketball.
“I feel like coming here is definitely my best chance of winning and being able to help the guys here that have made big moves and done great things in this league,” Holiday added. “So, I’m here to really just help set up their games and become a champion.”
The Celtics have had eyes for Holidays for years, dating back to his days with the New Orleans Pelicans between 2013-20. Stevens was so impressed by the team’s scrimmage that he couldn’t wipe off his neverending smile that carried over from the practice floor to the podium at Holiday’s introduction press conference.
“We got a chance to see this group go at it, and if you were sitting anywhere right around the court, you were in danger of getting hit by balls that were being thrown all over like a typical second day of practice. And, if you watched it really closely, you could tell we made a 1,000 mistakes, but you could also see there’s that thing that’s there,” Stevens explained. “There’s a togetherness, there’s an excitement. There’s a joy, a competitiveness.”
And there’s reason for optimism.
“I guess maybe that’s why I’m smiling,” Stevens added. “It was just the result of the practice. Obviously, I’ve talked about what I think of this guy as a person (Holiday), and I’ve talked all along about that. The idea of competitive character matters so much. Not only as the individual but how it impacts the team. And, I think he brings it as well as anyone around. I just think that’s contagious.”