Getting the update to my phone about Kyrie Irving’s trade request, away from Cleveland and LeBron, was one of the most memorable updates I think I will ever experience. It was joy, even if it was only indirect impact. The team we can’t seem to get through, just got dumped by its second best player. What a world. Cleveland probably wouldn’t even get a fair return considering the circumstances. Then I wondered where one of the most dynamic young guards in the NBA would end up.
Then, the wildest sports-offseason night of my life happened. I refreshed twitter, and there it was. Boston was preparing to send away Isaiah Thomas. Our fourth-quarter hero. The heart and soul of our franchise. We were also sending away another starter from last season, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic… and the Nets pick? It was a tremendous cost. The cost was so startling… an All-NBA player, a 3-and-D starter, a young big man, and a top-5 pick… it almost made you forget that you were receiving Kyrie. Kyrie Irving, the best handles in the NBA, the owner of the biggest made shot in 3 years, at only 25…
This blog has taken me a long time to write. I wrote a blog just speculating about the Paul George trade, a complete work of fiction, but couldn’t find any words about this crazy, unexplainable deal. I just let it sit, all off-season, all pre-season, but now, it’s time.
The Celtics are embracing the future at full speed with open arms. They cut ties from perhaps their three most core-players: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder. These three perfectly represent “the old-new Celtics”, a team that had a bunch of good pieces, but never truly stood a chance of winning 4 of 7 against the Cavs or Warriors. They all had a fatal flaw—Isaiah was too short, Bradley was too hurt, and Crowder was too overmatched against Durant and LeBron. Danny Ainge pulled teeth, a painful process considering what Isaiah Thomas gave to this franchise and what he meant to Celtics fans.
“The New-New Celtics” are a newly weaponized, sharp machine manned at the helm by Brad Stevens. After years of less-than exceptional players, one of the best coaches in the NBA has a pure workhorse scorer who can iso his way to 30 points, a newly-elite off ball wing who just ran an offense into the second-round in the West, and one of the most versatile modern centers in the East. All three of these players are finally in the correct role, as well. Kyrie is no longer suffocated by LeBron, allowing the whole offense to run through him as the true number one, including his newfound love of passing. Hayward now no longer has to run a whole offense, as can embrace his true calling—playing off ball, making the extra pass, stretching the floor and attacking the rim as a secondary option. Finally, Horford no longer has the pressure of being the 2nd best player, and can comfortably play his game in the paint while the other 4 starters do the dirty work.
It’s not just about the new big-three (or, maybe the medium-three is more appropriate…). Look at the bench. It’s certainly too early to tell, but Marcus Smart has been one of the better Celtics players on the court every night this pre-season. His shooting has finally taken those leaps and bounds we’ve been hearing about—for real, this time—and his incredible defensive impact has remained the exact same. Marcus going from 6th man defensive bulldog to Lite-superstar off the bench would separate the Celtics in an NBA where depth is the low priority on the totem pole. Jaylen Brown is making a similar leap in year two, showing more composure and control of his body, making contested jump shots, hitting consistent threes and possibly being in better shape. These are two guys who, if they progress like they appear to be, could be just as vital to the team as Horford and Hayward.
Then, you have the X-factor… Jayson Tatum. Starting in game one tonight. The kid who the Celtics looked at and decided was better than the consensus #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. Will Tatum lead the bench unit in scoring? Or will he be more? Before star players are star players, they come into the league as rookies and exceed everyone’s expectations. Will Tatum play like a star? Will he impact games and score 20 points on a given night? Given Boston’s depth at wing with solid young players like Yabusele, Ojeleye and Nader, and Brown and Hayward able to start at the 4 and 5, there isn’t enormous pressure on the Duke rookie to make a giant impact game one. However, the Celtics are certainly inferring that he can, considering he’ll be on the court at the opening buzzer tonight.
My expectations are sky high for this basketball team. I believe Kyrie Irving is a superstar. The thought of him being 28 in the year 2020, in his third year of running an offense like Brad Stevens’ team, makes me salivate. Oh yeah, and we have Gordon Hayward too. It won’t truly be real until we see them tonight, in the fourth quarter of a competitive game, laying it all out on the line. Kyrie Irving, the dynamic enigma that he is, finally facing the music on opening night, facing the Cavs. This is going to be an unbelievable experience.
I will miss Isaiah Thomas. I will miss his late game heroics, and how he seamlessly joined the ranks of Ortiz and Brady, even if it was just for one magical season. I’m sorry to see him go, but basketball is a business—Ainge got the guy who was taller, better, younger, and locked up for more years. He paired him with a perfect cast. Sometimes, that’s just the way life goes.
I expect them to win tonight’s game. I expect it to be electric. I expect the Boston Celtics to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals when all is said and done. I expect Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to be the players that Danny Ainge bet on the past two seasons.
See you tonight.