There will be buzz.
Playing for the Boston Celtics is a double-edged sword. The expectations (rightly) are higher, even when it’s not necessarily fair to judge a current season’s team against history. Being competitive isn’t enough. Even contending for a championship isn’t sufficient. You’re either the best, or you’re a footnote.
That’s just the way in goes when your history includes the likes of Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Larry Bird and Paul Pierce, to name a handful.
So it’s saying something, in the aftermath of the Celtics’ shocking trade for Kyrie Irving on Tuesday, that the buzz around the 2017-18 season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers already is building. The fact that it’s a matchup against Irving’s former team obviously adds to the clamor, but there’s also this:
If you squint real hard and tilt your head to one side, it’s not hard to think this squad has a chance to bring some championship swagger back to Causeway Street.
Now, that’s not to say the Celtics are suddenly the favorites for the 2018 NBA title. Only four players (for now) remain from the group that claimed the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last year, meaning third-year backup point guard Terry Rozier now is the second-longest tenured Celtic. (Marcus Smart holds seniority.) With that much turnover, it’s impossible to accurately predict how the currently constituted roster will fare.
And there’s always the possibility, however faint, that the 2017-18 Celtics could go down as the basketball equivalent of the 2011 Red Sox — a team that had the firepower to be great but never achieved greatness. It’s largely forgotten now, but the narrative around the union of Ray Allen, Garnett and Pierce in 2007 was whether those stars could put aside their personal accomplishments to attain team glory, so Horford, Hayward and Irving can’t totally be left off the hook in that regard, either.
But basketball is different than baseball (hot take!) and age isn’t the looming foe for a core involving Irving, 25, and Hayward, 27, that it was for the “Big Three.” What’s more, this new iteration can’t even really be called a “Big Three” without being extremely generous to Horford and Hayward.
Still, as long as it took for Celtics fans to buy in on last year’s team, there has been little hesitance this summer from Green Teamers. Even as stalwarts Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas are sent off, the sense is that the Celtics got stronger at the top of their roster while maintaining enough capable role players to imagine something jelling just the right way come playoff time. Coach Brad Stevens cobbled together a couple respectable, then very good, squads over the last three seasons with far less impressive parts, so it’s intriguing to anticipate what he might do with this collection of talent.
Perhaps most important of all, though, Celtics fans smell blood. They see the cracks forming in Cleveland, its unlikely trade partner. Irving forced his way out and James might not be far behind. They recognize the Cavs’ grip on the East is tenuous. The conference title feels attainable this season and, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown oozing potential, most certainly beyond.
Whatever may happen — and Danny Ainge might not even be done making moves — mark your calendars for Oct. 17: Celtics at Cavs, 8 p.m. ET. There will be buzz. And if these Celtics live up to expectations, that buzz could carry all the way into June.
Thumbnail photo via Ezra Shaw/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports Images
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