Four hours before tipoff of the NBA’s season-opening game Tuesday night, Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga sat in his usual post at TD Garden.
Stationed about 10 rows up in Section 107, Larranaga was the lone body in a sea of green and white T-shirts laying atop seats that soon would be filled with fans eager to watch the Celtics take on the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I think everybody’s excited when the season starts,’’ Larranaga told Boston.com. “We’ve put a lot of work into it, preparation all summer, anticipating the start of the new year . . . I think we all felt we would’ve liked to have kept playing at the end of last year, so we have a real hunger to continue to improve and to compete.’’
For the Celtics, Tuesday’s game served as the first of 82 for the loaded squad, which — after losing Game 7 of last season’s Eastern Conference finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers — is primed to make a run at a championship for the first time since the Big Three era. Spearheaded by the healthy duo of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the players have acknowledged their potential to accomplish “something special’’ if they can prioritize collective success over individual goals.
For Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, however, Tuesday’s game doubled as the start of a propitious year as well as the culmination of a series of trades, draft picks, and acquisitions the organization has made since hiring Brad Stevens as coach in 2013. Before player introductions, a video montage on the TD Garden scoreboard over center court detailed all the wheeling and dealing Ainge has done to build the current roster.
“I’m excited for our team,’’ Ainge told Boston.com. “I really do like a lot of things that we have in place. There have been a lot of different transactions and a lot of changes.’’
From wielding his treasure trove of Nets picks to trading Isaiah Thomas for Irving, Ainge has assembled the most talented roster yet under Stevens’s reign. The Celtics not only have “a few players that are in the prime of their career, playing the best basketball of their lives,’’ but they also boast a tantalizing “young core of guys.’’ Stevens, of course, is another asset — one that Ainge said he thinks has risen in value over time.
“Brad just gets better and better every year as a coach,’’ he said. “I know that everybody knows that he’s a good coach, but he’s even getting better. He’s learning the NBA game and the NBA personnel. He works as hard as anybody in our league. He was good when he came into the league, but I just think his experience is getting better.’’
With their talent and coaching, the Celtics, on paper, should be a favorite to reach the Finals. But Ainge noted there’s still some uncertainty about what’s to come.
“There’s some uncertainty whether we can reach our potential and reach the expectations,’’ he said. “I think that we all — our fans, our players, our coaches — have high expectations for us, and, with expectations, comes a much more difficult mental battle to overcome. The last couple years, we haven’t had the same kind of expectations that we have now.
“Yes, we have more talent [and] we have more depth, but, with that and our recent success has come more expectation. How we manage all that, that’s where the uncertainty is. Brad has a lot of tough questions because we have so much equality in our roster.’’
Ainge said the uncertainty generates a few more preseason butterflies than usual, but he emphasized “that’s what makes it fun.’’ Regardless of Tuesday’s result, Ainge knew there will plenty to learn as the team tackles the larger task at hand.
“I’m very excited about our depth and to see the progress of our team,’’ he said. “I’m anxious to see how it’s going to work on the court. I’m not going to overreact to early-season games because I think we have long-term objectives this year. It is new. It is new for all of our players.’’
Ainge said he didn’t think the team played well in their exhibition games — the Celtics went 1-3 and gave up 100 points in each — but he countered that the less-than-sublime showing may have allowed Stevens “to get the attention of the players that might have been feeling better about themselves than they should have.’’ To stay grounded, Ainge identified “humility’’ and “belief’’ as two important elements for the team to keep in mind.
“Those are things that Brad teaches and preaches a lot,’’ he said. “You got to believe in yourself and be humble enough to respect your opponent and respect the work that it takes to become great. There’s not a shortcut. You don’t win championships based on how good you look on paper. It’s how hard you work, how much better you get, how you develop chemistry over the course of the year, how hard you defend — those are things that Brad is very good at.’’
Ainge also placed value on the team’s continuity — something that, if all goes according to plan, should extend beyond this season. At an appreciation event for season-ticket holders earlier this month, Irving said he plans on re-signing with the Celtics when he hits free agency next summer.
“I had talked to Kyrie about that even well before that, as early as the summertime,’’ Ainge said. “He made it pretty clear to me that he really likes Boston.
“It makes my job a little easier, knowing that we’re going to have Kyrie for longer than just year.’’