Rocky Mountain Review: Elevated thoughts

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

LAS VEGAS -- Fresh off their best performance during a three-game stint at the Utah Jazz summer league, the Boston Celtics made the (commercial airline) trek to Las Vegas on Friday morning. Presented an opportunity to explore the entertainment capital of the world, many Celtics players -- including one group that included Marcus Smart, James Young, and Jordan Mickey -- invaded the UNLV campus to watch the first day of summer league games on a rare offday.

Any thoughts of a late night on the strip will be also be at least partially deterred by an early morning wakeup call as the Celtics will engage in a 9 a.m. shootaround on Saturday in advance of their Vegas opener later that evening against the Portland Trail Blazers (and old friend Keith Bogans!)

Before the alarm goes off, let's empty out the notebook with thoughts from Boston's three-game stint in Utah and the ongoing roster construction process:

Taking out the Trash: R.J. Hunter, who maintained his poise and confidence despite not producing a basket in his first two games in Utah, had maybe the line of the trip when discussing the importance of finishing strong in Salt Lake City before moving on to Vegas.

“Huge. That’s what me and [James Young] were just talking about in the locker room," said Hunter. "We were like, ‘Man, we need some momentum.’ We were calling ourselves the Trash Brothers because we were trying to call ourselves the Splash Brothers. But we needed that for sure."

Hunter broke out of his funk Thursday against the Spurs by scoring 18 points on 4-of-7 shooting, which included making all four of his 3-point attempts over 20 minutes.

Noted Marcus Smart: "We have been trying to do things to get R.J. the ball and get him going. He’s an unbelievable shooter and we knew his potential and what he can do. It was just a matter of time of getting him warmed up and into the flow of the game. He started knocking down shots when we needed him to."

A pain in the hip: The hype leading up to summer league was that James Young was carrying 20 pounds of muscle added since his arrival in Boston and was poised to break out this summer. Maybe it was the additional weight of expectations, but he simply never got going in Utah.

Young sat out the second half of Thursday's finale due to a hip bruise. His final stat line from the team's three games: 22 points on 6-of-26 shooting over 60 minutes of floor time.

The positive? The Celtics were encouraged by Young's increased activity on defense. He had lapses, but also showed a better understanding of his defensive responsibilities. Boston coaches maintain that Young's offense is the least of their concerns and that it will come eventually.

Regardless, Young could use some shots to fall in Vegas.

Strength in numbers: When the Celtics drafted three guards last month, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was bombarded with questions about a logjam in the backcourt. After making official the signings of Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson on Thursday -- with a trade for David Lee still to come -- Ainge was greeted with a question about a potential crowd up front.

"Wait a minute, I thought we had a crowd of guards?" Ainge said to laughter. "Well, it’s a 15-man roster, you have to have a crowd somewhere."

Pressed on the matter, Ainge added, "We have good players. We [will] have 15 players and there are five positions, so that means there is going to be a crowd. I’m excited with the fact that we have great depth at every position and there’s going to be some guys that play more than maybe some expect and some guys that will play less. I don’t know who’s that going to be, but it’ll make for an exciting training camp. I think we’re a team that, because we don’t have a superstar on our team, that we’re going to have to be a team that has to use depth to get through the season and be a consistent team."

Final praise for Bass: With former Celtics forward Brandon Bass inking his deal with the Los Angeles Lakers this week, coach Brad Stevens took the opportunity to offer a final bit of praise for a player he really appreciated.

"First of all, I’ve got a lot of respect for Brandon," said Stevens. "I think that Brandon’s a great guy. I thought he led by example here with his commitment to his diet, with his commitment to his everyday work, with his commitment to his team play. I thought he got better and I thought he impacted us great. I’m a big fan of his. I was texting him as a few days before that were going by and I wish him absolutely nothing but the best. He’s a great person to have around."

Smarty pants: Smart was downright dominant in his two appearances in Utah. He was far and away Boston's best player on the court. And his effort on Thursday, one in which he improved his shot efficiency from his summer debut, should have Boston fans rationally excited for what might lie ahead in his sophomore season.

Let's bottom line it with the high praise that Ainge offered, "He’s looked really special in some stretches through the summer league so far."

For his part, Smart has admitted he's extremely confident about where his game is at the moment, particularly his ability to run the offense.

"I played in summer league last year so I kind of know what to expect from the coaches, and what they want," said Smart. "The game has slowed down for me. I’ve been working on my game and hard work pays off. ... [Smart is] definitely [more confident] this year -- more than last year, since my ankle is feeling better. I’m able to move a lot more and able to do a lot more on the court on both ends."