Initially, I had planned to write about this Celtics team in July, post-Hayward, pre-Irving. Due to laziness, I let that opportunity slip by, but my patience was rewarded in late August, as were fans that were hopeful for an actual entertaining NBA season. Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas found themselves swapping places, and the Cavaliers were even given a Brooklyn draft pick and some nice pieces, á la Jae Crowder, to round out the team, essentially trading star power for depth, although the argument has certainly been made against Irving’s star power this past summer.
Whether you see him as a ball-stopping beta or the face of a franchise, it’s been an incessant debate spewing relentlessly since he announced he wanted a trade, and I’m not interested in slinging mud with fan bases. Instead, I looked at the roster, surveyed the Eastern Conference, and made my prediction. Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, and a small band of offensive-minded hybrid wings sounds like a first seed in the East to me if Cleveland struggled to get through the season healthy, even with their newfound depth. That line of thinking has drastically changed now with the Celtics’ opening game in the books.
Gordon Hayward underwent surgery before last night’s Celtics home opener for his dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia he suffered after colliding into LeBron while Hayward left his feet to chase a heavily defended lob from Irving. His agent said he is unlikely to return, but that was after a successful surgery he is expected to make a full recovery from. So here we are, an 0-2 start to the season, and an entirely new roster that’s already being stretched thin. How much more excitement does one need?
Many YouTubers and pundits (are they the same now?) have this team projected to fall to the fifth seed now, but most are also in the belief that if they go on a deep postseason run, Hayward will return. Almost everyone is aware he won’t be at his best until next season, so I credit the community for not overlooking that detail. My question is then, is this a lost season for the Celtics?
A small section of woke fans will shout how the whole season was pointless anyway, as the Warriors will inevitably win the championship this season regardless. My stance was if Boston captured the first seed, and if Thomas is slowed down by his hip when the two teams met in the Conference Finals, that Boston could overtake the Cavaliers this season. Adding Dwyane Wade certainly turned the tide for Cleveland in my mind, but still only if they remain healthy, because even without Wade but with a healthy Isaiah Thomas, then yes, LeBron would be heading to an eighth straight NBA Finals. Still, before the injury, I wouldn’t consider that a lost season necessarily.
No one had championship expectations for the Celtics this season. Everyone still waited in line to board the hype train, and the train broke down a little over five minutes into the ride. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Celtics, if you’re a fan of basketball, you’re disappointed. If not, then shame on you.
The fact is, LeBron is still the best player in the world, and even with health concerns, this is a talented Cavaliers team. LeBron hasn’t seriously been challenged since he overtook Boston’s Big Three for Eastern Conference superiority; save for a tough, defensive Pacers squad that gave his Heat teams a few fits in the postseason on the way to four straight trips to the Finals, and a repeat in the process. Subconsciously, this year was starting to be perceived as the beginning of the end of LeBron’s stranglehold on the East.
Danny Ainge certainly thinks so, because when Kyrie Irving has the opportunity to opt out of his contract before the 2019-20 season, he’ll be 27 going on 28, or the age Isaiah Thomas is now, except he’s going on 29. Hayward? He’ll be a year younger than LeBron is now when he has the option to opt out of his fourth year of his contract. This team has time, and Ainge will do whatever it takes to maximize that timetable. A season that doesn’t end in a championship isn’t a failure, this year was more of a learning experience in a crash course on how to overthrow an all-time legend. Now that Hayward’s gone for a year, what’s left to salvage?
Realistically, this team is talented enough that they should fall no further than the fifth seed, but even then I don’t think their ceiling is any higher than the fourth seed, so they’re basically battling it out with the Bucks for the middle pack of the East. That’s nothing to be excited about, and the end result of it is another battle with the Bucks, this time in a seven-game series, in the first round. Assuming they win that series, guess who’s waiting for them? The Cavaliers.
Hayward may be back by then, but why bother? It’s already obvious he won’t be at his best, and Cleveland will likely beat them anyway. Forgive my pessimism, but where’s the excitement in this? Irving wanted to be the leader of a team, and he’s getting the chance to back it up now. He looked good in the first game, moving without the ball while still finding opportunities to do more of what we come to expect from him. He appears to have bought into the system, barking out orders on the court and being vocal in the huddle. They still lost.
Yesterday there was much more isolation plays called for Irving, and he missed on a majority of his attempts. The offense was stagnant, and he only collected three assists; a more typical Kyrie Irving performance, according to his critics. They still lost, and to whom? Oh, if it isn’t those damn Bucks again. Strap yourselves in Celtics fans, Giannis wants to get out of the first round this year.