Last season, the Celtics' surprise before the start of training camp was a dramatic head-coaching change. This year's stunner is a positive one, as Stevens closed the deal with the Portland Trail Blazers for Holiday less than 24 hours before media day.
"There's a list of guys in the league that you always think you've never had a real chance to get that you think are perfect fits," Stevens said at the team's media day. "And Jrue is one of those guys."
Stevens said over the summer he and his staff had been trying to project how the Damian Lillard trade might play out for the Blazers and whether there would be opportunity to get involved in a secondary deal. When that player was Holiday, an All-Star last season and five-time All-Defensive Team member, a small bidding war developed among contenders, and the Celtics found themselves right in the middle of it.
It led them to pay a premium price that included key players Robert Williams III and Malcolm Brogdon plus two first-round picks. The trade also added $11 million to the Celtics' payroll, including more luxury taxes.
"You got to pay a good price for things, right? That's the way it goes. We're trying to win a championship," Stevens said. "This speaks to our ownership's willingness to spend regardless and our eagerness to be the best possible team we can be."
The deal potentially gives the Celtics one of the most formidable starting lineups in the league with three All-Stars from last season, including Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, plus big man Kristaps Porzingis, the team's other major offseason acquisition.
"I'm excited about Jrue, one of the most well-respected guys in the league, great talent on both ends," Tatum said. "[He's a] champion. We won a gold medal together [at the Tokyo Olympics]. Happy to have him."
But it means some shifts in the way the team was expecting to play, which was with a bigger lineup. After trading away guard Marcus Smart for Porzingis, Derrick White was designated as the starter at point guard, but that is where Holiday will get many of his minutes.
Players and coaches were just beginning to formulate as they posed for pictures Monday.
"I want to be as open-minded I can, knowing we have a lot of flexibility in the backcourt and the frontcourt," said coach Joe Mazzulla, noting he hadn't made any decisions of how his lineup would look like on opening night in New York in four weeks.
"The theme of the season for us is do we have the ability to bring the best out of each other to play team basketball and at the same time understand that we're all going to have to sacrifice? We're all going to have to give up small bits and pieces of ourselves to get to where we want to get to."
The team had fully been gathered for the past two weeks in Boston for workouts including Porzingis, who has been cleared after missing the FIBA World Cup with his native Latvia with plantar fasciitis. And Tatum, who elected not to have surgery on his left wrist over the summer and instead gave it rest and treatment so he is also ready for camp.
"I just got a bunch of second, third and fourth opinions [and] surgery wasn't a common one," said Tatum, who first suffered the injury in the 2022 playoffs and dealt with it throughout last season. "I wasn't all the way certain about it, but did all the right things this summer, took all the right measures, I guess, to make sure I was healthy and prepared to come into the season with no distractions."
Sunday morning, though, the team got the news of the trade, capturing everyone's focus. Still dealing with the departure of Smart and popular locker room voice Grant Williams, who signed in Dallas, saying goodbye to Robert Williams made an impact.
"Smart, regardless of what jersey he has on, that's still my brother and I feel the same way about Rob. I spent so much time with guys," said Brown, who signed a $304 million contract extension in July.
"It's like going through high school and middle school with somebody. I played together with Smart for seven-plus years, with Rob six-plus. I kind of grew up with these guys. So for them not to be around is a little bit weird."
The Celtics made the aggressive moves to try to get over the hump. They've been to the conference finals five times in seven years but haven't captured their desired 18th championship and reached the NBA Finals only once, losing to the Golden State Warriors in 2022. Last season they lost in Game 7 at home in the conference finals to the Miami Heat and have ramped up their roster trying to get another chance.
"We're going to put our [personal] stuff to the side, it's not what we're here for and we're going to figure it out," said Porzingis, who signed a two-year, $60 million contract extension after he arrived from Washington. "It's a lot of talent, a lot of players that can put up crazy numbers."
For day one of camp, that selfless attitude was coursing through the team. That included White, who is eligible for a contract extension this fall, but whose role could change now that Holiday has joined the team. Holiday is in the final season of his contract and with the price the Celtics paid, there is an expectation they would seek to sign him to an extension as well when he becomes eligible next spring.
"I've only heard great things about him...adding a guy like that, you can't be upset about," White said. "Whatever happens with the extension talk, whatever. But I'm really just focused on the season and I don't think it could change that much from what was I was thinking about this whole offseason and the way that I got to play and prepare. So adding him is going to be great for us."