Bulpett: Roster overhaul leaves Celtics survivors spinning
CANTON — All of a sudden, Terry Rozier’s neighbors started disappearing. One by one — then two at a single whack — the crew from the southwest corner of the Celtics dressing room in the Garden broke up.
Everyone knew Amir Johnson, two lockers away from Rozier, wasn’t going to be re-signed, but then Avery Bradley, next door to his right, went to Detroit to make room for Gordon Hayward’s free agent deal.
The dust had seemingly settled when Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas from his left were jettisoned to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving.
Monday as the Celts gathered for media day before heading to training camp in Newport, Rozier was one of just four Shamrocks remaining from the defending No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Rozier, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown — winners of “Survivor: Celtics Island.”
“It’s hard to think of it,” said Rozier. “It happened so fast, and it just happened out of nowhere, and it’s hard to ignore it. But at the same time you don’t try to get too much into it. It’s crazy.”
But he almost had to get into it when his name was floated as a possible trade piece.
“The guys I’m around during the summer try to do a good job of just keeping me level-headed and not really worrying so much about that,” Rozier said. “But if I was to sit here and tell you I wasn’t worried about it at all, then I’d be lying.
“But it’s part of the business, part of the game. You never know what’s going to happen. You start to think, ‘OK, so what if I’m next?’ Things like that. I just try to keep it basketball, try to keep bettering myself. That’s what I tried to do this summer.”
One year after joining the Celts, Horford realized he was going to be playing for a different team — without ever having to change his address.
“At first it was like Avery was moved and we got Marcus (Morris),” he said. “But then it just kind of ... you know, Kelly (Olynyk) signed with Miami and it just started snowballing.
“I didn’t pay much attention to it until the Kyrie thing happened, because (Ante) Zizic and then obviously Isaiah and Jae being moved to them, that’s when you look at the roster and you only have four guys returning. It was a big surprise, but it was like gradual. You thought it was over, and then something happens, something broke. I think I saw something that Danny (Ainge) said that in all the offseasons there’s usually a lot of changes and things like that and people don’t notice it. But there was a lot of big changes because it was a lot of our core guys that were moved.”
Brown employed blinders to get through it.
“I had a great summer, but I know there’s been a lot of changes and there’s a lot of new things,” he said. “But as far as myself, I had a great summer, and I’m just happy to be a Celtic. You know, a lot of changes and a lot of things and guys are gone that were here that had established roles and things like that. But it’s part of our game, it happens, and it’s above my pay grade, so I don’t really pay attention to it. I’m just happy I’m still here and ready for this year.”
Smart was in Denver getting “mentored” (his term) by Chauncey Billups when the Irving explosives were being lit.
“My agent called me and said it’s possible that you could be traded,” Smart said. “It just happened out of nowhere. When I first heard it, I was just like, there is no way. But then (after further reports), I was like, ‘OK, this is real life. This isn’t just a rumor anymore. This is going down.’
“With the leaving of Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas and those guys, you know, I’m definitely going to miss those guys. I think everybody here is going to miss those guys. I know I learned so much from those guys — Avery Bradley — all those guys meant so much to me. They were more like brothers. It’s definitely hard to see those guys go. We wish them the best in their careers and luck in the future. But we also welcome the new guys. We also welcome Kyrie, Gordon Hayward and all those guys that we obtained.”
Smart, 23 and now the longest-tenured Celtic at three years, still finds it odd that a 53-win team was dismantled.
“It is,” he said. “It is weird. I think it was a surprise to everyone. And that was the surprising factor, because we did make it so far. We surprised a lot of people, being the No. 1 team in the East and making it to the Eastern Conference finals, beating Cleveland in Cleveland in one of those games. And then out of nowhere you trade the guys that helped you get there. It was a surprising factor for everyone.”
Horford has similar feelings, though he also has to be aware that, record and meeting with the Cavaliers in the conference finals aside, the 2016-17 Celts were not on Cleveland’s level.
“Very strange. Very strange,” he said of the heavy reconstruction. “We got to a point that I felt like, well, I didn’t feel like, Danny and management felt like there needed to be some changes. I think that Gordon was a guy that was always desired and wanted, and we pursued him in free agency, and that was a big change for us. And then obviously the Kyrie thing happened. That was a great surprise for all of us. We didn’t see that coming at all, but it’s something that I feel like is really going to put us in a different position as a team. He’s an unbelievable player. And then adding Marcus Morris, (Aron) Baynes; we have a lot of new pieces. I feel like we’re moving in the right direction as a team.”
Just don’t be surprised if, on occasion, Horford, Smart, Rozier and Brown glance down at their jerseys to confirm they’re still Celtics. It was that kind of summer.