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Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge knew his team wasn’t going to get past the Cleveland Cavaliers as long as LeBron James was around. The playoffs proved that last season.
So Ainge’s thinking was clearly to get rid of the Celtics’ current stars, start over, and get ready for the post-LeBron era. James may not leave the Cavs after the season, but he will be 33 years old. Opposing teams are beginning to prepare for his reign in Cleveland to at least slow down.
So Ainge pulled the massive trigger, sending Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick and Miami’s 2020 second to the Cavaliers for (drumroll, please) Kyrie Irving.
That’s a massive shakeup, a lot of key parts for just one guy. But Irving is the type of player that can get your new and exciting future off the ground.
Ainge wanted a makeover, and man, he went out and got it. He landed Gordon Hayward in free agency, drafted Jayson Tatum, kept Jaylen Brown, and now, traded for Irving.
It’s a nice young nucleus, and the Celtics could finish with the top seed in the East again. Or they could finish fifth. As Cavs fans will tell you, with Kyrie as your leader, you just never know.
PROS AND CONS OF KYRIE
Irving is a dynamic and dazzling point guard. He has perhaps the league’s best handles and can finish against anyone at the rim. Several opponents have agreed that Irving is the worst person in the league to try to defend, alone, out on the perimeter, with the ball in his hands.
He can embarrass you.
He can be breathtaking, amazing, and after three years next to LeBron, is a champion.
Irving can also make 3-pointers, including massive dagger ones, and earned the nickname “Mr. Fourth Quarter” from Cavs play-by-play man Fred McLeod. Irving can gut an opponent’s basketball soul.
Those are the positives, and there are many.
The negatives? First, Irving is risky when it comes to his drives, and can therefore be prone to injury. One member of the Cavs’ basketball side said that Irving “doesn’t leave himself an out” when sailing to the basket against larger opponents.
Most players have an idea of where they are going to land, and/or where they will land in the event a Plan B is needed (the so-called “out”). Irving is brave enough that he doesn’t really seem to care after leaving his feet.
But perhaps the biggest negative is Irving has never indicated that winning was the reason he wanted out of Cleveland.
Today, players usually leave their current situation to chase championship rings. Irving was already doing that. His trade request had nothing to do playing for a title. He just wanted to get away from James. He just wanted to be The Man.
Kyrie is often all about Kyrie, and the Cavs were just 4-13 in the games Irving played and LeBron did not. Some of the Cavs will tell you Irving often seemed just fine with that record.
“When you’re trying to win a championship, there is no in between,” former Cavs GM David Griffin told NBA TV. “You’re all the way with me, or you’re all the way against me. And I think this is a situation where Kyrie made it clear he had a goal that might not have jived with Cleveland’s.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue occasionally had to get on Irving about Irving’s need to remember that basketball should be the top priority, above his brand. Sometimes, Irving listened. Other times, he blew it off.
So this is not necessarily all about winning a championship for Irving. It’s about running his own team, about not feeling like a second fiddle, about building himself into a guy who doesn’t need James, doesn’t need anyone.
Not all of that is a negative. Basketball should be fun, and Irving is ready to enjoy himself again. But in terms of wins and losses, well, we still don’t know how that will impact the Celtics.
Ainge clearly thinks this is a move that will beat the alternative, that Irving is the engine who will make this new band of Celtics go places they previously could not.
If that’s the case, Ainge made the right call, and Irving will prove himself a winner, after all. But all we know right now is Irving wanted out of Cleveland and his wish was granted. Anything beyond that is up to him.
The good news? Irving wants to be the best player in the league. The bad? It’s not really known if he cares about playing for the best team.