On April 16, 2017, an emotional Isaiah Thomas suited up in the green and white of the Boston Celtics just one day after his sister’s tragic death. The star point guard left his heart and soul on the floor for his team as he once again shouldered the Celtics’ burden, scoring 33 points in the Celtics’ Game One loss to the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
A mere 150 days later, in a deal that sent shockwaves across the league, the Celtics finalized a trade to send the face of their franchise to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
To say the Celtics’ offseason was a whirlwind would be inadequate. In fact, it would be more appropriate to describe the Celtics’ past few months as a revolving door. Boston lost 10 players from last year’s team, including three of their top four scorers; Thomas (28.9 points per game in the regular season), starting small forward Jae Crowder (13.9 points per game over the 82-game regular season) and Thomas’ former backcourt partner Avery Bradley (16.3 points per game in the same period) have all left Boston via trades, with Crowder joining Thomas in Cleveland and Bradley set to feature for the Detroit Pistons. On opening night, over 70 percent of the team will be donning Celtics uniforms for the first time. This changing of the guard and subsequent lack of familiarity among the Celtics will result in growing pains that the team must overcome quickly in order to build on last season’s progress.
Defeated by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge evidently felt his squad had reached their ceiling. This, combined with the now evident truth that Ainge could not wrap his head around paying Thomas the five-year maximum contract worth approximately $180 million he desired, led to the dismantling of the team that had finished the previous regular season first place in their conference. Usually reserved for basement-dwelling, perennially average teams, Ainge’s decision to shake up his roster represents a rarity in professional sports.
That said, Celtics fans should trust the process Ainge has set into action. “A wizard in stockpiling draft assets,” the famously savvy, forward-thinking Ainge decided to reshape the roster this past summer, allowing for the subsequent influx of fresh talent in Beantown—which is arguably necessary for the franchise’s title aspirations to come to fruition.
As the famous adage goes, the Boston outfit went out with the old and in with the new. As a result of the Isaiah Thomas trade, the Celtics brought in arguably the most prolific haul of the NBA offseason: Kyrie Irving. Regarded by Danny Ainge as “one of the best scorers in the NBA [whose] best years are ahead of him,” Irving is a transcendent offensive talent who finished in the top four in the league in minutes per game, points per game, field goal percentage, three point field goal percentage and free throw percentage among point guards last season.
Perhaps most well-known for his clutch performance in Game Seven of the 2016 NBA Finals, Irving is a battle-tested leader who is capable of putting the Celtics on his back in adverse situations. In addition to Irving, the Celtics splashed the cash in order to bring in All-Star small forward Gordon Hayward on a four year, $128 million contract this past summer. Reunited with his college coach in current Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, the former ninth overall draft pick looks ready to build upon his career year last season. Hayward averaged career highs in points and rebounds for the Utah Jazz a season ago, with 21.9 and 5.4 per game, respectively. With a points per game total that has increased during each year of his career, Hayward is a constantly improving scorer who fits seamlessly into Boston’s offense strategy.
The additions of Irving and Hayward, coupled with the drafting of third overall pick Jayson Tatum, who is “a really skilled player [and] a really talented scorer” according to Stevens, have Celtics fans excited for this coming season (nba.com). Despite their talented pieces, the Celtics will endure some growing pains at the start of the 2017-2018 campaign. Fans won’t mind this, however, if Ainge’s master plan comes to life in the form of a seventeenth championship banner hanging down from the rafters of TD Garden.
Following their 102-99 loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers on opening night this past Tuesday, the Celtics showed they still have work to do to stake their claim at the top of the Eastern Conference this season. Unfortunately for the Celtics, Tatum’s solid regular season debut (14 points and 10 rebounds) and Irving’s team-high 10 assists were overshadowed by some darker news. In the first quarter of his Celtics debut, Gordon Hayward landed awkwardly on his left leg, ultimately leaving the game with a fractured tibia and left ankle. With Hayward sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Celtics’ championship hopes certainly have taken a brutal blow.