Enterprise

Ime Udoka to stay patient and updated status on Horford and Brown


Ime Udoka understands that early on in his first season at the helm of the Boston Celtics, he may need to exercise some patience. 

The Celtics beefed up their roster this offseason by bringing in several new additions to go along with an almost entirely new coaching staff, headlined by Udoka.

As Boston tries to get all the pieces to mesh in the early going, it could prevent the Celtics from hitting the court at full throttle when the regular season begins against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (7:30 p.m.).

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“Bringing in a new staff and some new personnel in general, it’s going to take some time with the shorter preseason and only four games as opposed to eight or seven in the past,” said Udoka following practice Monday. “You have to expedite the process a little bit, but when guys were taken out of the lineup, we had a little bit of a setback there. But as I mentioned the guys that have played have picked up where they left off, so it’s going to take a little bit of time. 

“We’re looking at these first few games as well to build toward where we want to get to, but at the same time we’ve had good growth throughout the preseason, so we want to see that continue.”

The influx of new players that weren’t on the roster last year, which includes Al Horford, Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Enes Kanter, Juancho Hernangomez and Bruno Fernandes, should help the Celtics finally put last year’s dreadful season well into the past. 

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They can first help Boston by creating a new team identity, and it should be a vastly different one than the Celtics exhibited a season ago if Udoka has his way.

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“I talked about it from day one, effort and execution, those things have been improving throughout our games,” Udoka said. “I think you kind of see that in game results. Whoever played, played hard, played together, played unselfishly and so that’s the foundation we’re going to try to start on.”

Behind the NBA’s Most Improved Player in Julius Randle, the Knicks surprised many last year with a top four finish in the Eastern Conference in the regular season.

New York quickly developed into the top defensive team in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau’s first year as coach, allowing a league-best 104.7 points per game. Udoka expects New York’s hard-nosed defensive style to be on display opening night along with a different offensive approach, especially now since the Knicks have former Celtics guards Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to play alongside Randle and RJ Barrett. 

“Defensively they are who they are and they’re going to play extremely aggressive and hard and deny elbow catches and be physical,” Udoka said. “That doesn’t change regardless of who their roster is. But offensively they’re doing some different things, playing with a fast pace and shooting more threes. So, we’re preparing for that. Like I said, it’s a league-wide trend where guys are trying to play faster and we’ve had some time to adjust to that in preseason and the Knicks will be a good test on opening night with that.”

Status of Jaylen Brown, Al Horford unclear

Mired by injuries over the last few years, all signs point to the Celtics not being at full strength to begin this new campaign. 

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Jaylen Brown and Al Horford were both sidelined for a good portion of the preseason after contracting COVID-19. The Celtics announced Brown had the virus on Oct. 8 and four days later, the team revealed Horford tested positive for COVID-19 as well.

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It’s unclear whether Brown or Horford will be able to play versus the Knicks. Brown seems to have a better shot at suiting up than Horford, whose 10-day isolation period wouldn’t be over until Thursday if his positive result came the same day the team announced it. 

“Those guys are doing well,” Udoka said. “Just waiting to hear back from the testing results and all that. Find out some obviously in the next few days, but they’re doing well as of now and hope to have them back.”

Even if Brown, who is coming off his first All-Star season in which he averaged 24.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists, is cleared to play, he might not see the court given the long layoff he had without any practice time before the first game.

In recent years, the Celtics have been careful when getting players back onto the court, and with 81 games still to go after the matchup with the Knicks, they could use the same approach again.

“We’d like to get somebody reps obviously instead of throwing them into a game being out all that time,” Udoka said. “So, something that we traditionally do not do, but something we’ll have a discussion about and see where we go.”

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The newest Celtic

Six days after being waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brodric Thomas found a new NBA home with the Celtics. Boston announced Monday it signed the 6-foot-5 guard to a two-way contract. 

As a rookie last season, Thomas played 34 games in stints with the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers, averaging 3.9 points and 1.7 rebounds. Thomas also earned Second Team All-NBA G League honors last year.

“As soon as I got waived, I talked to my agent and (Boston) contacted me and were interested two days ago,” Thomas said. “It’s been a rapid change in a short amount of time, but I’m embracing it. As a young player trying to find my way, that’s how this league goes. I’m excited and I’m ready to embrace that.”

Udoka said the Celtics like the background of the 24-year-old Thomas as he played three collegiate seasons at Division II Truman State University before going undrafted and grinding his way to the NBA.

“I think it’s played a tremendous role just for the fact of coming in not being known, I have a huge chip on my shoulder,” Thomas said. “To make my name in this league is something big for me and there’s that chip on my shoulder and I want to prove to everybody that it doesn’t really matter what division you come from, if you put the work in, you’re going to be able to make a way.”

Catching on with the Celtics brought much delight to Thomas’s family, especially his mother who Thomas said is a Celtics fan despite the family residing in Illinois. Thomas holds the second two-way contract on the Celtics along with Sam Hauser.

The Celtics still have an open roster spot after waiving Jabari Parker on Sunday.



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