Marcus Smart ejected after trying fight J.R. Smith, who had shoved Aron Baynes

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Tell me again how that Celtics/Cavaliers rivalry has faded.

In a play late in the first quarter, Boston’s Aron Baynes and Cleveland’s J.R. Smith got tangled up as Smith had been physical and fronted Baynes in the post, then they got tangled and Baynes kind of tossed Smith, so Smith shoved Baynes in the back.

At that point Marcus Smart wanted to step up for his teammate — and lost it, having to be wrestled to the ground by his teammates while Smith is amused by all of this.

The result was Smart getting ejected and Smith just getting a technical.

Smart is going to get a fine from this, Smith may as well.

Preseason games rarely see this kind of passion, but this is the second ejection this year. Washington’s Markieff Morris was tossed, although for far less of an infraction.

Celtics spoiled with depth. Too much?

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The Celtics return eight players who started during a playoff run that ended one game from the NBA Finals.

Boston also has two other players who might be better than those eight.

Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will join Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Aron Baynes, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Semi Ojeleye on the court this season. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

It’s also a stacked roster that exists at the same time as the Warriors, arguably the greatest team of all-time. So, Boston will still have major external barriers.

But the Celtics’ initial challenges will come from within as they try to balance all this talent. How will they manage?

Coach Brad Stevens is already sending his message: This is a special team capable of winning big if everyone sacrifices, and these opportunities don’t come around often. Stevens is an excellent communicator and has repeatedly gotten his players to embrace their roles. The expectation should be a continuation this year.

Perhaps no player has set a better tone than Rozier. Starting for an injured Irving in last year’s playoffs, Rozier wowed. He looked every bit like the starting point guard he hopes to become. But Rozier has consistently said he has no problem returning to the bench behind Irving.

This is also a contract year for Rozier (unless he signs an extension before the season). He has been stuck on a relatively low-paying rookie-scale deal and this will be his chance to earn set-for-life money.

If he can buy in, why can’t everyone else?

There are plenty of Celtics with big reputations considering their standing in the league. Boston put a league-high seven players in ESPN’s ranking of the NBA’s top 100 players. Per #NBArank, the Celtics have the NBA’s second-best third-best player (Horford), second-best fourth-best player (Brown), best fifth-best player (Hayward), best sixth-best player (Smart) and best seventh-best player (Rozier).

Here’s how the top 100 is represented by rank within each team – teams’ best players in the first column, teams second-best players in the second column, etc.:

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Quibble with the exact rankings. But the overall picture is clear: The Celtics are loaded.

And Boston has three extra first-round picks, likely including the Kings’ this season (top-one protected). The Celtics aren’t just in great shape now. They’re poised for a long run of success.

But personal agendas sometimes derail teams headed for greatness. Rozier and Morris are playing for new contracts, though at least they might be the only ones in the rotation. Irving is practically guaranteed the max next summer no matter how he performs this year. Horford and Baynes have relatively lucrative player options to fall back on. There are fewer potential pitfalls here than usual.

The best thing Boston can do to keep everyone on track is win. Many players across the league feel as if their role isn’t large enough. The ones on winning teams usually keep quiet (enough) about it. How can they complain when the overall plan is working? They typically understand it won’t go over well. It’s players on underwhelming teams who grumble more.

Essentially, these things snowball.

And the Celtics have been snowballing toward greatness for a while. They could hit a snag, but the avalanche is building and coming for the rest of the league.

Celtics’ rookie Robert Williams still battling knee tendinitis, yet to play 5-on-5

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Robert Williams, the center out of Texas A&M, was a steal in the draft for Boston, having fallen all the way to No. 27. He has incredible athleticism and a 7’5.5” wingspan and in college used those tools to be a shot blocking and rebounding force, skills that can translate over to the NBA.

We haven’t seen much of that, however. One game into Summer League he banged knees with a 76ers player, which aggravated Williams’ knee tendonitis. That is still an issue, and he has yet to be medically cleared to play 5-on-5 just weeks before training camp opens, Williams told Tom Westerholm of Mass Live.

“Still taking it day by day,” Williams said. “There’s people that have a lot of time, a lot of money invested in you now, they don’t want to mess up what they got going. But I’m thankful for the trainers and the coaches, just taking it day by day.”

“Just strengthening places I need to strengthen,” Williams said. “Obviously my knee, obviously knowing what’s going on out there on the court, knowing the calls before (Brad Stevens) throws in me a 5-on-5 game. He’s been teaching me actually the past couple days, just hammering in the calls, all the play names, all the big names for things, so it’s just been a great perspective, a great opportunity.”

Boston always planned to bring Williams’ along slowly, he was always viewed as a project. The Celtics have Al Horford and Aron Baynes ahead of him in the center rotation, so Williams was always going to see limited court time in Boston and time in the G-League is not out of the question at all.

Williams has the tools to become a quality NBA center, he just has to get his body right as much as he can — he has an arterial condition in his legs that can lead to blood flow issues. Williams also has to prove he’s willing to work — that was the real reason a guy of his size and skill fell to 27th in the draft. There were questions about his work ethic, questions if he loved the game enough to put in the hours that were needed daily to reach his goal. The fact that he was late to his introductory press conference, then missed a flight, which made him late for Summer League practices, then twice has lost his wallet since the draft, all added to the questions.

It’s on Williams now. And that starts with doing the work to get healthy and stronger and on the court.

Celtics’ quiet summer good enough

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics are in great shape.

They were always going to be in great shape.

Boston just reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals with Gordon Hayward missing practically the entire season and Kyrie Irving missing the entire postseason. Those stars return to a team that still has Jayson Tatum and Al Horford and Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier and… This roster is stacked. Though the Rockets and Raptors can stake legitimate claims, I’d rate the Celtics second in the NBA behind the Warriors.

If that weren’t enough, Boston also has 2-3 extra first-rounders coming – from the Kings or 76ers, Grizzlies and maybe Clippers. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

So, unlike last season, when they turned over 11 of 15 players from a conference finalist, the Celtics remained pretty quiet this year. And that’s totally fine. Boston didn’t to win the offseason. Winning the last several was enough.

The Celtics re-signed Marcus Smart (four years, $52 million) and Aron Baynes (two years, $10,646,880).

Will Smart hold positive trade value? His style of play is so unconventional, teams might not believe they can fit him in.

Did Boston really have to give Baynes a player option or even a second guaranteed season? He’ll turn 32 this year.

But those questions are minor compared to the biggest takeaway: Smart and Baynes will help the Celtics over their contracts. Boston coach Brad Stevens knows how to use those two, and keeping them was important.

It might take the Celtics into the luxury tax, which ownership has shown a willingness to pay – and good for them. Their spending should bring advantages. That said, I also wouldn’t be surprised if Boston sheds a small amount of salary this season to avoid the tax and delay the repeater clock.

The Celtics drafted Robert Williams, who slipped to No. 27 because he’s immature then saw first-hand just how immature he is. Most rookies have their acts together more than that, but Williams’ career won’t necessarily be irrevocably derailed by immaturity at age 20.

Other moves were even smaller – trading Abdel Nader to the Thunder and signing Jabari Bird and Brad Wanamaker to minimum deals.

Really, the most significant move of Boston’s offseason was arguably LeBron James leaving the Eastern Conference he had dominated for the last eight years. No team was more impeded by LeBron during that run than the Celtics.

But even if LeBron re-signed with the Cavaliers, I still probably would have picked Boston to win the East this year. Without two stars, the young Celtics nearly beat an old Cleveland team last year. The road just gets a little easier with LeBron gone.

I’m extremely bullish on Boston. It just has little to do with this summer.

Offseason grade: C+

Celtics coach Brad Stevens: ‘We’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters’

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The Celtics might be too deep.

They won 55 games last season with Gordon Hayward missing nearly the entire season. They reached the conference finals without Kyrie Irving and Hayward in the playoffs.

All five regular-season starters – Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes – return. So does playoff starter Terry Rozier. So does Hayward. So does Marcus Smart, whom Boston coach Brad Stevens has called the team’s “sixth starter” for years. So does Marcus Morris, who started in Detroit before joining these stacked Celtics and remains in his prime.

Make no mistake: Teams around the league envy this challenge. But it’s still a challenge.

Stevens on the “Yahoo Sports NBA: Chris Mannix” podcast:

I think all of our guys realize that we have a really good thing going.

Part of being on a team is all being understanding that there’s nothing like experiencing winning together.

For me, it’s more about, we have a unique thing, and I think we all have to recognize that. The starting thing, the finishing and everything else – we’re going to have different lineups  out there, and everybody’s going to get an opportunity and lots of opportunities to make an impact.

We’ll just do it like we’ve always done it. Marcus Smart has come off the bench for two years, and I’ve never considered Marcus Smart to be a non-starter. I just think that you – we’re fortunate enough on our team that we’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters. So, we’ll figure that out as the time comes.

And I do I think that our guys have a recognition overall about that’s not what it’s about. It’s about trying to be the best that we can be collectively. If we all do what we do to the best of our ability, it will benefit everybody individually.

But you only get so many chances to be part of a special group. And we’re pretty fortunate to be in this position. We need to take advantage of it.

Ten is probably pushing it. But the Celtics might actually have nine starting-caliber – i.e. top-150 – players.

How will that work?

Boston’s team success will help plenty. It’s harder for players to grumble about playing time when the team is winning.

Stevens also does a great job of giving players roles and getting them to buy in. These players fit different positional archetypes, allowing Stevens to give them each turns depending on situation.

And maybe only Rozier and Morris are playing for their next contract. As long as he stays healthy, Irving will likely command a max contract in free agency next summer no matter what. Horford ($30,123,015) and Baynes ($5,453,280) will probably opt in, though there’s a chance they’re playing to prove they deserve new contracts. Hayward, Tatum, Brown and Smart are locked in for multiple years.

Rozier has consistently struck the right tone in balancing his personal ambition with playing his role in Boston. That’s contagious. Stevens is adding to the culture with preemptive positive reinforcement.

The Celtics could get tangled in playing-time disputes, but they’re at least off to the right start for making this work.