BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics had a successful 2016-17 season, winning 53 games in the regular season to earn the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
But after dispatching the Chicago Bulls in the first round and then advancing to the conference finals with a hard-fought seven-game series win over the Washington Wizards in East semis, it was pretty clear that the Celtics were no match for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs blew the Celtics out in four of the five games in the Eastern Conference finals, so the Boston brass knew they needed to make some big changes in the offseason.
It started with a shocking trade of the top overall pick, allowing Danny Ainge to grab another future pick and still get his man at No. 3, Jayson Tatum. A few weeks later, the Celtics inked Gordon Hayward to a max deal. A casualty of that signing was guard Avery Bradley, who was dealt to Detroit for Marcus Morris to clear cap space for Hayward’s contract.
But the Celtics really lit off some fireworks on Tuesday night, trading Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick to the Cavaliers for guard Kyrie Irving. The Celtics acquired a superstar in the trade, but had to say goodbye to the face of the franchise (Thomas), a fan favorite and tough defender (Crowder) and a potential high pick in the swap.
It was a hard decision, but one that has the Celtics thinking even bigger for the 2017-18 season.
“We got bounced pretty hard, and then those guys got bounced pretty hard. We didn’t feel we were where we needed to be. You do what you have to do to try to get better,” Celtics president Wyc Grousbeck said of the blockbuster on Wednesday. “Kyrie is a four-time All star and an All-Star starter, a transcendent talent. We are excited to put him together with Hayward, [Al] Horford and [Marcus] Smart. We want this team to go for Banner 18, and you need to get the best possible players to do that, so that’s what we’re trying to do.
“We’re really excited about the trade, although it’s bittersweet to let someone like I.T. and Jae go,” he added. “We’re going to miss those guys.”
The deal certainly makes the budding Celtics-Cavaliers rivalry a lot more interesting. It will all start on October 17 when the two teams kick off the NBA season on national television. Grousbeck wouldn’t say if he thinks Tuesday night’s trade puts the Celtics over the top against the Cavs, but is excited for the team’s chances next season and beyond.
“Both teams are going to try to beat the other one into a pulp and win by 40 points. This is very new, so I don’t know what to think. It’s amazing that we’re playing that first game,” said the C’s owner. “I think we’re in a very good position to represent Celtics Pride really well. We have a really strong team, an up-and-coming team with more youth on the way. We want to be really good for a really long time, and that starts now.”