Why it's important for Celtics to get away for a few days

CANTON, Mass. -- When the Boston Celtics wrapped up their media day chores on Monday afternoon, players boarded two oversized yellow buses -- think supersized school buses with Wi-Fi and comfy seats -- and headed south for Tuesday's first day of class at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.

The goal of this rare, three-day training camp field trip: Find Ubuntu -- or, well, something like it.

It has been 10 years since the last time the Celtics acquired two All-Stars in an offseason. In the summer of 2007, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge impossibly turned a quartet of defiant pingpong balls into Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics and that Big Three -- Garnett and Allen joining forces with Paul Pierce -- trekked to Rome that October, and the team embraced Ubuntu (a philosophy in which the collective success of a group is prioritized over an individual) after coach Doc Rivers preached its powers.

Boston players used that European adventure to bond. The Celtics' starting five, including Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, all shaved their heads on the trip, and a brotherhood was forged. You probably can remember what happened from there: The Celtics won 66 games and navigated a fascinating postseason run that culminated with raising Banner 17 after besting the rival Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens need not pack any shears for Newport (no way anyone is getting near Gordon Hayward's perfect locks). Seventy-two hours spent 72 miles south of the team's home base is unlikely to have the same impact as that 2007 trek overseas.

But for noted homebody Stevens, the fact that the Celtics are uprooting even for a few days speaks volumes about his desire to force his new-look roster into situations in which players must interact and build the bonds that are so vital to team success in the NBA.

What the Celtics did this summer is unprecedented. No team that led its conference in wins the previous season has ever returned four players or fewer in league history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Boston's returning quartet includes only Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

Smart, the No. 6 pick in the 2014 draft, is Boston's longest-tenured player after the roster teardown.

"That's still a shock to me," said Smart. "I'm 23 years old and you guys are calling me the longest-tenured Celtic. I never in a million years would have thought about that."

Or as Terry Rozier III (the Roman numerals added to his jersey this offseason) more bluntly put it: "To remain on the Celtics after a tornado happened is crazy."

To sign Hayward to a max contract, changes were necessary. Familiar faces such as Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk were lost to make a free-agent splash. It turned out that was only a warm-up act, as Ainge dropped jaws around the NBA by dealing Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round pick and the Miami Heat's 2020 second-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for Kyrie Irving.

The Celtics have 12 new faces, including six players who have never played an NBA game, if you include their two rookies on two-way, G League contracts. For all the big splashes at the top of the roster, the bench is unproven and uncertain at best.

On Monday, on a soundstage inside a gigantic TV/film warehouse in suburban Boston, Boston's newest big three of Irving, Hayward and Horford playfully mugged for group photos. There are obvious questions. Can Irving be a leader outside of LeBron James' shadow? Can Hayward continue to evolve like he did throughout his time in Utah?

But the big question as the Celtics prepared to open camp with their first two-a-day session on Tuesday morning: How long will it take Boston's star trio to develop chemistry on the court?

"We just have to be very patient with this, and I speak on that pretty often," said Irving. "It's not trying to figure out one thing or two things in one day or after one game, it's going to come in wave. These ups and downs, what we're about to face as a team and as a collective group, it's going to be very interesting. It'll really echo in terms of our identity and how we respond."

It's jarring how the identity of these Celtics has changed in the four months since their season ended with a loss to Irving's former team in the Eastern Conference finals. Boston was a spunky, overachieving group of blue-collar workers headlined by former second-round picks such as Crowder and Thomas.

Now they're stocked with former high-lottery selections, and there's an expectation of success. ESPN's Basketball Power Index projects Boston to win an East-best 54 games, finishing ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and currently gives the Celtics the best chance of meeting the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

It's easy to understand why big things are expected from Boston. And yet no computer algorithm can truly account for the growing pains the team will most certainly endure.

That's where Newport can help, at least a little bit. And so will the countless practices and walkthroughs at the team's typical practice facility. These Celtics don't have to find Ubuntu over the next three days, but if they can forge a friendship or two, at least they won't have to wear nametags by the end of the week.

A desire to figure this thing out might ultimately be the best bonding agent of all.

Ainge pointed out how, even after acquiring Thomas midseason during the 2014-15 campaign, the Celtics were able to jell quickly and surge to the playoffs in part because of how much the players on that team wanted to win. He feels a similar vibe with this group.

"Obviously, there was some talented players, but there was a hunger from each of the players that I think is sometimes underestimated," said Ainge. "Obviously, it's gonna take time for Brad to figure out who plays best with each other and so forth, but I think that enthusiasm, that excitement that each one of our players has right now is unique and special, and we have some very special, talented players. I think that can sometimes make up for the continuity.

"Although I will say the longer they play together, the better they should get."

Stevens, ever patient in his approach, recognizes that he won't have his desired "institutional knowledge" to lean on early this year.

"I think that one of the biggest challenges for anybody in this, in coaching or in playing, is that you want it to happen tomorrow," said Stevens. "We're going to figure each other out. And we've gotta be smart about not overdoing it.

"As I watch tape and film from last year of our team, there were a lot of plays that were made instinctively out of kind of a knowledge of each other. And we're going to have to build and grow. And it takes some time. But everybody seems to be onboard, excited and ready to roll with trying to make it as good as it can be as quickly as it can be."