Celtics back on their way up, but how far?
BOSTON (AP) The Boston Celtics didn't drop far enough into the NBA draft lottery to land a franchise player to build their next championship team around.
Instead, they are climbing back up through the standings behind coach Brad Stevens.
Since winning their NBA-record 17th championship in 2008, the Celtics regressed five times in six seasons before returning to the playoffs last season. After winning 40 games in the regular season - 15 more than the previous year - Boston was swept in three games by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
''Obviously, when you're coaching the Boston and making the playoffs and getting swept in the first round, it's not a pleasant experience,'' Stevens said at the opening of training camp.
''It's hopefully a motivating thing that we didn't play as well once we got there.''
This year, Stevens hopes for another step forward, and he may get it: his team went 24-12 from Feb. 3 until the end of the regular season. The Celtics traded for David Lee from Golden State and signed free agent Amir Johnson in the offseason, unlikely moves for a team hoping to tank its way back into the lottery.
Here are some more things to look for from the Celtics this season:
PLAYING TIME: The Celtics entered training camp with 16 guaranteed contracts for 15 roster spots, and general manager Danny Ainge said at media day that the competition would be beneficial. ''All 16 guys are worthy of being in the NBA,'' he said. If true, that means at least one guy will have to find another home, and a half-dozen more would be wasting their talents on the bench.
HAPPY TRAVELS: The Celtics opened the preseason with exhibition games in Milan and Madrid. The team also went to Europe in 2007, a trip that turned into a bonding session for the New Big Three that led the franchise to its record 17th NBA title. (The Celtics also went to Europe in 2012, with less success.)
FOR STARTERS: One of the big questions surrounding the team is whether Isaiah Thomas will start or come off the bench. He was Boston's most exciting player last year, averaging 19 points in just 26 minutes while coming off the bench in all 21 games he played after he was acquired from the Phoenix Suns.
''Everybody wants to start. Everybody wants to be a star. Everybody wants to be the all-star. Everybody wants to win a championship,'' Ainge said.
THE FUTURE: Ainge has spent the last few years accumulating draft picks - the Celtics have a potential eight first-round picks and 17 selections overall in the next three drafts. When he acquired Thomas from Phoenix in February, it marked a turning point in the rebuilding: Ainge stopped saving for the future and started spending.
With such a large cache of trading chips, Ainge could make a move at any time. And even a small move could propel the Celtics to the next level.
''We were as close to fourth as we were to 12th last year,'' Stevens said. ''We'll continue to talk about that. Because that margin is a small one.''