The Boston Celtics are a team that, even after a brush with greatness, has never been able to get over the hump of being a true championship contender. The Celtics have made it to the playoffs seven times, but have never been able to win a championship. Last year, they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

There are no guarantees in sports, and the Celtics got a taste of the unpredictability that comes with being a professional franchise last spring when they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in their opening round playoff series. And though they’ve been preparing for next season since the end of the playoffs, the sun has not set on the Celtics’ ambitions for next season.

1:34 AM ET word-image-3231 Tim Bontemps After a disappointing season for Kemba Walker, who lost the Boston Celtics’ last two first-round playoff games to the Brooklyn Nets with a bone bruise in his left knee, the All-Star guard says he wants to get healthy this season and get back to being the player he has been his entire career. It’s tough, Walker said after the Celtics lost 123-109 to Brooklyn Tuesday night in Game 5, ending Boston’s season. It was really hard, especially because I played so many games in my career when I was healthy. I came to Boston to be a part of those special games, to be a part of the high intensity races and the rabid fans, and unfortunately I couldn’t be a part of that. Just try to do it right. I have to make it up to you. Walker hasn’t played much for the Celtics this season. After having problems with his left knee for most of the 2020 calendar year, Walker began a 12-week program to strengthen the knee that lasted into January, forcing him to miss the first few weeks of the season. Even after his return, Walker only played half of each series, missing 29 games. By comparison : In his first eight seasons in the league with the Charlotte Hornets, he missed just 35 times. Walker said Boston’s treatment of his knee had worked and that the bone bruise he suffered in Game 2 of that series – and which led to serious problems in Game 3 and sitting out Games 4 and 5 – was the result of a strange landing, not an earlier problem. He said his goal now is to rebuild his health in the offseason so he doesn’t have to go through another program like this next season. Frankly, I don’t foresee it going that way, Walker said. I plan on feeling good again this summer. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any free time. So this is a very important moment for me. I’m really going to attack [the offseason]. I just take a vacation, think about the past year, think about what I need to improve, think about how I can feel good again. Of course, I need time for that. 2 Connected The future of Walker, who has two years and more than $73 million left on his contract, is just one of many questions for the future of this team. Another is Evan Fournier, who Boston acquired using a trade exception from the signing and sale of Gordon Hayward last season and who will be a free agent this summer. It hasn’t been easy months for Fournier in Boston, as he was treated for COVID-19 by the Orlando Magic almost immediately upon his arrival and struggled with the effects of the disease after returning to the playing field. Speaking after the game, which could be his last at Celtic, he said it was too early to say what will concern him when he becomes a free agent for the first time this summer, when he plays for the French national team at the Tokyo Olympics. This is not the right time to talk about it, Fournier said. But what can I tell you about the Celtics? It is clear that the organization is working with an A+. They really showed it. They were very happy to receive me, showed me much love, and everyone was extremely positive. It wasn’t easy for me. My first game was obviously not so good, and then I had COVID and all the rest, but everyone has stayed, from the staff to the players to the management, they’ve all shown a lot of love, and that’s something I really, really appreciate. You know, I really did. So, I mean free agency, you know, we’ll see. I don’t even have an appointment. I have no idea when free agency starts, so we’ll see. The future of Marcus Smart, the Celtics’ longest-serving player, is also unclear, as he is under contract for another year and is eligible for a contract extension. Smart, who remains one of the league’s best defenders, was defiant when asked if Boston, which has reached the Eastern Conference finals in three of the last four years, was good enough to return to that level after seeing what the East’s biggest rivals, including the Nets, are doing. According to him, the equation is simple: If the Celtics are healthy after this series without Walker, Jalen Brown and Robert Williams, and after a season in which an ever-changing roster was missing due to COVID-19 and injuries, this team is more than capable of competing in the East. He repeated these words several times in different terms in the post-match press conference. If we are healthy and have everything, we are b—-, says Smart. And we prove that all the time when we’re healthy, so getting everybody back on track, getting their bodies in shape, and it will be good for us. It’s been a bad year for a lot of guys, including me. I’ve had some injuries – Rob [Robert Williams], Kemba, Jaylen. We’re missing three of our star players, so it’s tough. But take a break, learn from it, see what you need to do, and like I said, try to stay healthy. For Jason Tatum, this season has generally been very successful. He’s one step closer to his status as a multiple All-Star and could still make the All-NBA team – which would give him a major boost toward the max he signed with the Celtics before the season. He said that won’t stop him from improving this summer. When I started playing, I didn’t just want to go to the NBA, Tatum said. It was the desire to succeed at the highest level, to be one of the best, to be a winner, an MVP, all those things. That’s what motivates me. Tatum, who said he doesn’t mind playing for Team USA in the Olympics, also said he’s feeling good and improving month by month after struggling to recover from his own bout with COVID-19 in January. He also added that he thinks he has a long way to go and that it excites him to think about how he can continue to improve. But when it comes to improving the Celtics team, Tatum said he’ll leave that to management and focus on his job instead. What else would there be? I don’t know, Tatum said. It’s not part of my job description. I have no say in this and I’m not involved. I just come to work and do what I can, and then it depends on the circumstances. I’m sure I can make some suggestions, Tatum added, talking about what the team should look like in the future. I feel like everybody has a job, and I think my job is to show up and play basketball, not to propose trades or suggest who you bring in, who you let go and things like that. That’s not what I do.

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