WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) – For the past few years, the Boston Celtics have been looked upon as a young team that’s developing. Now the Celtics say they’re ready to grow up.

After missing the playoffs last year, the Celtics held onto their core of young players during the offseason – avoiding the temptation of trading youth for experience – and added a few veterans to the mix of what they hope will be the strong blend of talent.

“With so many young talented players, we have to learn how to mature and learn how to win,” star forward Paul Pierce said Monday at the team’s annual media day gathering. “I’m excited. I think we’ve got a lot of young talent – a lot of depth. Some of these guys I don’t even look at as young. I look at them as young veterans.”

Pierce is entering his ninth NBA season, forward Wally Szczerbiak, his eighth, and center Theo Ratliff, who was acquired during the offseason, is beginning his 12th. Besides that, no player that is likely to start the season playing significant minutes has been in the league more than three seasons.

“It’s time to make something happen. We should take the challenge and grow up,” said guard Delonte West, entering his third year. “We have to show that we’re not (young). Last year, there were too many smiles. We need to have some more frowns. Too many guys were just too happy to be with the Boston Celtics.”

Last season proved to be frustrating for both Pierce and the Celtics. Despite Pierce’s career-highs in scoring (26.8) and shooting percentage (47.1), the team failed miserably down the stretch, losing seven of their last 10 games to fall out of playoff contention. It happened a few weeks after Pierce scored 30 or more points in 13 of 14 games.

At times, the team showed the promise that made coach Doc Rivers excited. But they couldn’t put a streak together, never winning more than two consecutive games the entire season and finishing 33-49.

“We have to take this group of young guys and make it into something that’ll work,” Pierce said. “I want to show these guys what it takes to be a pro. A lot of guys are in their first, second or third year.” Rivers sees a very talented group and expects winning results.

“If you look at other teams like Dallas and San Antonio, I think they have raw and proven talent, and we’re not there yet,” Rivers said. “But for raw talent, I think we’d have to be right up there.”

Boston also acquired point guard Sebastian Telfair from Portland during the offseason – along with Ratliff – to help run the offense and pick up the tempo.

But now they’re talking about the need to have that talent turn into a winning record and playoff trip.

“You can only be young for so long,” center Kendrick Perkins said. “This is my fourth year, and a couple of young guys’ third, its about time we start making things happen. There’s no more room for excuses.”

And making something happen means making the playoffs.

“I think we’re going to be a better team than last year,” said third-year forward Al Jefferson. “I see us in the playoffs.”

Notes: Center Michael Olowokandi was in camp as a free agent tryout. After being picked up in a trade with Szczerbiak from Minnesota on Jan. 27, Olowokandi played in 16 games, averaging 2.8 points and 2.6 rebounds and 10.4 minutes a game. … Pierce expects to see some strong competition for positions in camp with all the young players. “Besides Wally (Szczerbiak) and me, I think we’re going to have some good battles.”

AP-ES-10-02-06 1706EDT


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