Wyc, you finally got your fireworks, baby.
Al Horford summed up this summer best while at Celtics Media Day, “You thought it was over, and then something happened. A lot of big changes, and a lot of our core guys were moved.”1 Danny Ainge decided to make history. Boston is the first team in NBA history to return four of less players after leading in their conference. Trade down from the #1 Pick? Okay. Gut the #1 seeded team in the East. Huh? Trade your beloved star player to your Conference Rival? Wait, what?!?
We published our wrap-up piece on July 27, and by late August everything had dramatically changed. After delivering our takes on the Gordon Hayward acquisition and the draft, we thought the Celtics news was done for the summer. Then, on August 22nd, Danny Ainge told the entire NBA, “Hold my drink.” Isaiah Thomas’s “slow grind” came to a screeching halt, when Danny Ainge determined he did not want to back up The Brinks Truck for a 28-year-old 5’9” point guard.2 Leaving ESPN salivating, fans’ heads spinning, and NBA 2K18’s marketing scheme in shambles.
Isaiah may never speak to Danny Ainge again. But as fans, Celtics Nation has pushed past the shock, denial, and acceptance stage, and are now super elated about the blockbuster trade that delivered Kyrie Irving to Boston. After the craziest Celtics summer since 2007, August’s star-studded swap has catapulted the Celtics back into the national media spotlight. A mega trade between foes? Check. New beef-riddled storyline for LeBron? Checkmate.
More importantly, Ainge has pulled off the impossible, where the C’s are making a sustained run—simultaneously contending in 2018 while building for the 2020s at the same time. What’s most crazy is that Ainge still has some roster flexibility if he chooses to manuever. Celtics fans Jordan Martins and Christian Williams breakdown an exciting summer for the Boston Celtics. Read it now, before Trader Danny shakes everything up again.
Written by Jordan Martins & Christian Williams (of The LA Times)
Kyrie has the keys to his own team. What will he achieve in a “real, live sports city?”
WHAT CAN KYRIE BRING TO BOSTON?
Since August there has been intense debate about whether Kyrie Irving can truly be a difference maker in Boston. Danny Ainge failed to trade his prized picks in other deals, what makes Kyrie so special? A number of questions arose about Uncle Drew’s pedigree. Can he take his game to another level? Does he do anything else besides score? Is he a bonafide superstar? Can he lead a team to success? Christian Williams has some answers for the pundits and doubters alike.
Christian Williams on Kyrie’s Potential:
I think the world has yet to really see the totality of how bright Kyrie Irving’s star can truly shine. Arguably one of the best, if not the best, creator off of the dribble, there is no shot that Kyrie can’t make in this league. Offensively, Irving is a juggernaut. Nothing profound about that statement there as we’ve known this since his days at Duke (and yes, they were literally days). The question for that determines his star versus superstar status has always been what else does he bring to the table? Kyrie’s displayed a score first mentality, failing to make the teammates around him better and lacking the drive to make an impact defensively. Those traits are more in line with Carmelo Anthony, than say Kobe Bryant (Irving’s mentor and idol). However, much like everything in life, I think there is significant context behind why Kyrie has been portrayed as such thus far.
Up until LeBron made his return home, the Cavaliers had an absolute joke of a roster. During the 2013-2014 season, the best players from a statistical standpoint on Cleveland’s roster were Dion Waiters, Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson, Spencer Hawes, and honorable mention Jarett Jack. The only way you’re winning with that team is in 2K… on rookie mode. Kyrie was only 21-years-old at the time, and was still trying to figure out how to navigate his own success in the league. Who on that roster was he going to make better? An oft-injured Deng? Young Tristan Thompson who was still searching for his role? Dion Waiters who was more focused on his touches than improving the team? Please. This was a doomed roster from the jump, and it proved to be so when the team landed the rights to draft Andrew Wiggins in that summers draft.
Fast forward to summer 2014 and LeBron comes to town, immediately changing both the team’s fortune and Kyrie’s role on it. Irving went from floor general responsible for elevating his team, to a cog in LeBron’s system. Master General LeBron took over, orchestrated the offense, and Kyrie was relegated to a weapon and a closer, but seemingly nothing more. During the stretches that LeBron took his in-season vacations, Kyrie was expected to lead a team built for LeBron to regular season wins, something Irving failed to do. Not a great look, but again, this team was built for the an older LeBron halfcourt offense, not Irving who wanted to run the floor. Plus, let’s be real—the regular season games in the middle of winter didn’t really matter much to Cleveland.
So… what does this all really even mean? Is this a long-winded attempt to exonerate Kyrie from his past shortcomings in Cleveland? Certainly not. Irving has to do more than simply impersonate the Black Mamba if anyone is to take him seriously as a superstar now that he has his own quality team. He’s going to have to be a leader, by both example, and by backing up what he says off the floor. The latter he has proven time and time again to be a bit contradictory. I think he can take that next level up though. In Boston he has the right talent on the floor (All-Star vets, hungry young core) as well as on the sidelines (the unflappable Coach Stevens) to succeed. Irving will have the green light (pun intended) to create on offense both as a scorer and a facilitator. Should the Celtics manage to lock up the 1-seed again in the Eastern Conference, Irving could very well be in the MVP conversation like his trade counter part IT last year. Ultimately it will be on Irving to prove that honing his craft means more than just his numbers.—CW
Say hello to the newer, lighter Marcus Smart.
WILL THIS FINALLY BE SMART’S BREAKOUT YEAR?
Given this is a contract year for Marcus Smart. He did the smart thing and got into the best shape of his career. Will that be enough to secure him a big payday this summer? The C’s passed on signing him to a sizeable rookie extension, will he make Ainge and crew look dumb?
Jordan on Smart’s Contract Year in Boston:
This is our third and final shot writing about Marcus Smart and his potential. We did it right after he was drafted in our 2014-2015 Preview, and we had more tempered expectations in our 2015-2016 Preview. The longest tenured Celtic has had a checkered start in Boston, with injuries hampering his development. I think this could be breakout year for Smart. In pre-season he hit his 3’s at a decent clip, and looked more consistent on the offensive end.
Smart took the right approach this summer, and locked-in to take advantage of his contract year. He was mentored by Chauncey Billups, and trained with him in Denver. He changed his diet by hiring a chef, and exchanged fried food for Mediterranean food (he specifically mentioned dates). Smart had back problems late in the season, and said putting on weight last year didn’t help with his explosiveness. Last season he would play high energy for 3 quarters, then his body would slow down in the 4th. He says his energy level is higher overall, thanks to the 20 lbs he lost this offseason.
He’s now checking in at 223 lbs—his lightest since college—and it should have a positive impact on his game. Smart can have a Tony Allen like effect on the game, and fill the hole left by Avery Bradley. During Media Day interviews, Smart acknowledged that due to his weight last season he was like a power forward, and Avery was guarding everyone on the perimeter. With his lighter frame he says he’ll be able to stay with quicker guards like Bradley Beal and John Wall. Smart says he lost fat, and added muscle so he still should be able to guard bigs as well.
On Media Day, Brad Stevens said, “I think Marcus is a critical part of our team.” He cited Smart’s toughness, will, and competitive spirit, and Stevens said he’s counting on Smart and his #WinningPlays. This should translate to major minutes for Smart. He has the opportunity to really prove himself to the entire league, and lineup a payday for himself this summer.
Danny Ainge took a gamble by not inking Smart to a rookie extension, instead Smart will become a restricted free agent in 2018, and Boston would be forced to match team’s offers to retain Smart’s services. Smart seemed unhappy about not getting his extension, and both Marcus and his agent have spoken about it to the media. I feel as if there might be some trade potential for Smart with him not being extended. It’s clear the Celtics value having flexibility moving forward over anything.—JM
- Bravo Al, you’re the lone quotable All-Star on this team, because Gordon Hayward barely talks, and Kyrie talks in circles more confusing than trying to guard his handle. [↩]
- Hear me out, I’m only half-joking as I type this. I think the Brinks truck tweet was pivotal, and @DanielRAinge publically acknowledged he was wondering whether it was worth it to pay Isaiah. That’s the moment Ainge mentally went from ambivalent, to “nah, son you gotta go” and became willing to pull the trigger. [↩]