Kyrie is Now a Celtic, Isaiah and Jae are Cavs, But the Earth is Still Spinning Round

Danny Ainge made the splash. There, are you happy internet? Trading the top pick in the draft for the second pick and a future lottery pick left question marks that could be countered with Tatum praise and future-asset satisfaction. Landing Gordon Hayward meant losing Avery Bradley in a cost-saving move that also brought on former-Piston Marcus Morris. We thought we were done after the modest signing of Aron Baynes, New Zealand’s version of Kendrick Perkins. But no, we weren’t done. How many times have I heard the phrases “collecting assets” and “war chest” in reference to each future draft pick Ainge added in the past few years? Too many to count. Finally, that’s over. Even though its late August and the NBA is officially not happening, not in regular season, playoff, draft or free-agent bonanza/trade mode. Then this. Kyrie Irving made himself available before LeBron could leave him in Cleveland.

And suddenly, the Celtics are Kyrie’s team, flanked by the versatile swingman Gordon Hayward, and the do-everything stylings of Al Horford. After all that Isaiah Thomas did to propel this team to prominence, and with one year remaining on his contract, Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren agreed that the opportunity to bring Kyrie Irving to Boston was too great to pass up. They might be right, given time, but for now, this one is painful.

Let me preface my reaction by explaining something. While I recognize the NBA is a business, and the salary cap, a player’s age and contract situation, all underlie so much of what goes on when a franchise is considering free-agency and trades, I cheer as a fan of the specific players on the Boston Celtics. Watching each game, I develop an affection for certain players. Some, like Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, play with an undeniable energy, that is wonderful to watch. After the whirlwind of this spring’s Celtics playoff run, and the additions of Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, optimism abounded.

With every rumor that has come and gone since the Internet and Twitter began dominating the speculative NBA landscape, I’ve become increasingly aware of the general public’s love of rumors, and the tendency for sports fans to view their team through the GM lens. Roster-construction, fantasy teams, cap mechanics. I understand that it can be an analytical exercise, which people get into. It’s just not the way I want to follow my team. I want to follow each human who puts on the uniform, and see how they handle failure. I want to see their maturation and progress, as they go from rookie to sophomore, to young veteran. When Hayward chose the Celtics as his free-agent landing spot in early July, Avery Bradley was traded to Detroit. Bradley played seven season in a Celtics uniform…and he’s only 26 years old. Watching him grow as a player was part of what made last year so much fun. Hayward’s growth in the last few years has been revelatory as well, but I haven’t seen it the way Jazz fans have.

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Danny Ainge is like the honey badger: He doesn’t care what you think.

The Internet is a never ending source of alternate realities, as we’ve seen in the political landscape. Electric point guard Kyrie Irving, the player who will replace the newly beloved Isaiah Thomas as point guard in Celtics green, believes the earth is flat. When asked if he’s seen NASA’s pictures of the planet from outer space, he replied he’s seen lots of things through his time in school that he doesn’t believe to be true. As a teacher who has previously taught U.S. History and American Literature from multiple perspectives, rather than through a traditionally Eurocentric lens, I can appreciate that perhaps Kyrie believes in questioning big ideas. Its just a shame he questions that one.

Kurt Anderson’s upcoming book, Fantasyland, documents just how untethered our culture has become. I recently read the excerpt he published in The Atlantic. It was convincing. He situates our current fact-free cultural pathology by contextualizing the past 60 years of the American mind-set as it took a turn away from reason and fact, and began indulging in the subjective lens. In many ways, it was inevitable that Americans would turn away from the rigid focus of objective truth that dominated academia in the 1940s and 1950s. The ethos of questioning authority has brought progress in many circles. When the authority was always Eurocentric and male, it was necessary to question. When higher education was for the wealthy only, it was necessary to question. Questioning, with an emphasis on expanding our knowledge and empathy, is always positive. But there is truth. Objective, scientific truth. Reason is necessary. Logic gives us a common ground to work with. Tearing everything down, without focus or reason doesn’t lead to progress. It leads to confusion and chaos. Tearing down the things which should never have been built is necessary. Read Kurt Anderson’s explanation of how we’ve arrived at this bizarre and dangerous cultural and historical moment.

Now, back to the Celtics.

After the initial shock, I had two distinct and separate reactions to the news:

The first comes from the Celtics fan in me, who watches every game, loves the players as the human beings that play the game on the court, and really wanted to see Isaiah, Jae, Avery (all gone now) and Horford, Smart, Jaylen, Tatum, etc. beat a LeBron-led Cleveland team in the playoffs. Watching them dethrone the King would’ve been glorious, even if it hadn’t led to a title. Watching them battle the Wizards again in the playoffs would’ve been dramatic. I know some don’t share the belief that winning the East matters if it doesn’t lead to a title (ringz, ringz, ringz), though we don’t know what the Finals would look like. We don’t know with certainty that the Warriors beat the Spurs if Kawhi was 100% healthy, shutting down Durant for parts of that series, and we don’t know what Golden State vs Houston will look like. What the NBA media world seems to know is that LeBron is likely leaving for Hollywood next summer, and beating his Cavs to get to the Finals would have been cathartic after watching him dominate the East so thoroughly since 2011. Now, I’m supposed to take the love I’ve built up for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder over the last two years, and drain it out of my system in order to watch the Celtics battle the Cavs this next year? Please. It won’t be that simple.

The other reaction, the more logical, calculating, salary-cap aware, long-term title-chance-aware, roster analysis-aware reaction is closer to neutral in my opinion of this trade. Even the second reaction, the analytical one, thinks that they gave up more than they should have. Kevin Pelton, who does the advanced-metric forecasting for ESPN, thinks they gave up too much. It probably hinges on Isaiah’s hip and Boston’s ability to sign Kyrie two summers from now.

After the frustration of attachment to the actual humans who play dies down, the reasons for the trade make solid analytical sense:

  • Kyrie is 25 (Hayward is 27, Jaylen Brown is 20, Jayson Tatum is 19)
  • Kyrie hits shots that nobody should hit, often seeming to raise the bar in the biggest moments.
  • This will make you feel old: only three players on the current roster (Horford and Baynes in 1986, Morris in 1989) were born before 1990.
  • Kyrie is under contract for two years, while Isaiah (who is 28) was going to become a free-agent next summer. (Ainge must believe they can re-sign Irving after the second year, Horford’s deal ends the year after)
  • Isaiah’s ridiculous speed bursts may not be so speedy when he’s 31 (but I wanted to find out!)
  • If LeBron leaves for the Lakers in next July, the Celtics title window opens up. (Same might be said for the Bucks and Sixers, though they have a ways to go)
  • Brad Stevens will make all the new additions better, though it may take 30 games for the offense to gain the fluidity and feel that he prioritizes.

There. Its done. Danny made his big splash. The Internet won, once again. Maybe the Celtics will win a title in 2019 or 2020 or 2021. Maybe the Warriors will win the next five and the playoffs will lose all appeal. I wonder where Isaiah and Jae and Avery will end up.

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Check out my hoops memoir. Available as paperback through Amazon, and through Blurb as E-book.

Writing. Poetry. Personal Essays. On the NBA, MLB, media, journalism, culture, teaching and humor.

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