Boston // While the rest of the NBA was locked out, the Boston Celtics were locked in.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, who led the Celtics to their record 17th NBA championship in 2008, were already signed and ready for another run at the title.
So while the defending champions Dallas Mavericks were trying to replace Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul was trying to figure out whether to report to the Los Angeles Lakers or Los Angeles Clippers, the Celtics were simply resting up for the season, which begins on Sunday.
"It does help, having the five guys back," said Doc Rivers, the coach, throwing the centre Jermaine O'Neal into the mix.
The lockout that wiped out the first seven weeks of the season has been seen by some as a gift to the ageing Celtics, who would benefit from the extra time off and the shortened season. But others note how compressed the resulting 66-game schedule is, with fewer off-days and frequent strings of three games in four nights, and wonder if one of the league's oldest teams will hold up to the intense activity.
"We're all figuring it out. It's going to be a period where everybody's adjusting," Garnett said. "This year will test everybody's endurance and their willingness. This will be more mental than physical."
That might not be the best news for the Celtics, who will be relying on Pierce, 34; Garnett, 35; and Allen, 36. O'Neal, 33, is the centre for as long as he can stay on the court; he played in only 24 games last season. At least the Celtics don't have to worry about Shaquille O'Neal, 39, who retired after spending most of last season trying to recuperate from injuries.
"It's not going to come down to age, but who's mentally tougher," Jermaine O'Neal said. "Who's going to stay mentally tough from the get-go? And also health is a big part of it. You've got to take care of your body. My goal is to stay healthy. I just don't want to be hurt."
The Celtics will not play back-to-back-to-back games this season. What they do have is a 12-day, eight-game road trip in March to California, Denver, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.
Jeff Green, one of the team's best young players, is already out for the season after surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm.
That leaves Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic backing up Pierce. Brandon Bass replaces Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Keyon Dooling is the back-up point guard instead of Delonte West and Nate Robinson.
Garnett said the NBA is getting younger but insists older players have edges, too.
"We're a veteran team, but one thing you can't teach is experience. We're a very confident group, a group that's willing to work."