Celtics-Cavs: NBA East’s best thing

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS - JON KRAWCZYNSKI

S star af­ter star mi­grated from the East­ern Con­fer­ence to the West this sum­mer, the lesser of the NBA’s di­vi­sions got so wa­tered down that some spice was badly needed.

Kyrie Irv­ing de­liv­ered.

The mer­cu­rial guard stunned the rest of the league by re­quest­ing a trade away from LeBron James and the Cava­liers and the an­nual trip to the NBA Fi­nals that comes with James.

In sub­se­quent in­ter­views since he was traded to the Bos­ton Celtics, Irv­ing has done lit­tle to smooth things over with the game’s best player or the fran­chise that drafted him No. 1 over­all in 2011.

“It’s just re­ally between two men,” Irv­ing said last month when asked if he planned to reach out to James to clear the air. “If it hap­pens or not, I’m pretty sure you guys won’t know about it.”

James didn’t hide his dis­ap­point­ment in Irv­ing’s de­ci­sion af­ter team­ing with him to go to the last three fi­nals and win a cham­pi­onship two years ago.

“I tried to give him ev­ery­thing and give him as much of the DNA as I could,” he said. “At some point, when he was ready to take over the keys, I was ready to give them to him. So, the only thing I’m up­set about is he took a lot of the DNA and a lot of the blue­print to Bos­ton.”

James wasn’t the only one up­set by the deal.

Isa­iah Thomas was deeply wounded by Bos­ton’s de­ci­sion to trade him af­ter an emo­tional and dom­i­nant sea­son, set­ting the stage for a tense fight for con­fer­ence supremacy.

“It def­i­nitely caught me off-guard, but it also woke me up,” Thomas said. “It made me re­al­ize that this is a busi­ness

Aand any­body other than prob­a­bly LeBron James or Kevin Du­rant or those type of guys can be traded.” This level of drama and in­trigue is needed in a con­fer­ence that lost Jimmy But­ler, Carmelo An­thony, Paul Ge­orge, Paul Mill­sap and Jeff Teague over the sum­mer.

A look at the East, in pre­dicted or­der of fin­ish:

PLAY­OFF BOUND

1. Cleve­land — Death, taxes and LeBron in the fi­nals.

2. Bos­ton — The big­gest ques­tion may be how the Celtics will ac­count for the loss of Avery Bradley and Jae Crow­der on de­fence.

3. Wash­ing­ton — John Wall and Bradley Beal are ready for prime time. Now they have to get the rest of the team to fol­low them.

4. Toronto — Per­pet­u­ally over­looked around this time of year, Kyle Lowry and De­Mar DeRozan refuse to give in. Adding C.J. Miles was an un­der­rated score. If the Rap­tors can breathe a lit­tle more move­ment into their of­fence, they’ll be in the mix again.

5. Mi­ami — Here’s bet­ting the sec­ond half of last sea­son (30-11) was a lot closer to what the Heat ac­tu­ally are than the first half (11-30) was. A team that plays as hard as they do could climb higher in the wide-open East.

6. Mil­wau­kee — Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo — aka the Greek Freak — seems des­tined for MVP con­sid­er­a­tion in the very near fu­ture. Jabari Parker’s re­cov­ery may keep him out un­til Fe­bru­ary, which could hin­der the Bucks’ climb up the lad­der this sea­son.

7. Char­lotte — Here is where it starts to get re­ally tricky. This is a vote of con­fi­dence in head coach Steve Clifford’s abil­ity to get more out of Dwight Howard than any­one since Stan Van Gundy.

8. Philadel­phia — If Joel Em­biid is some­how able to stay healthy for 60 games or more, vet­er­ans such as J.J. Redick and Amir John­son should be able to usher th­ese kids into the post­sea­son.

IN THE MIX

1. Detroit — Get­ting Bradley from the Celtics is a nice fit for Van Gundy. The big­ger is­sue will be get­ting a team that at times seemed frac­tured and mis­er­able last sea­son on to the same page. That starts with Reg­gie Jack­son and An­dre Drum­mond.

2. Or­lando — Some­one has to be 10th. Adding Jonathan Isaac’s de­fen­sive in­stincts to the ros­ter is a plus, but it re­mains an im­bal­anced team light on shoot­ers and long on big men in a league that is get­ting smaller by the day.

FAC­ING LONG ODDS

1. New York — New GM Scott Perry is boldly try­ing to go where few Knicks ex­ec­u­tives have gone — to Re­build­ing Road. Now that Carmelo An­thony and Phil Jack­son are gone, it’s Kristaps Porzingis and a bunch of un­knowns try­ing to turn the cor­ner.

2. Brook­lyn — A year af­ter post­ing the worst record in the NBA, the Nets should be... a lit­tle bit bet­ter. Coach Kenny Atkin­son has more to work with in De­Marre Car­roll, DeAn­gelo Russell and Allen Crabbe.

3. In­di­ana — Ev­ery­one knew Paul Ge­orge was on his way out. That made deal-mak­ing dif­fi­cult for GM Kevin Pritchard and it showed in the re­turn he got for one of the best play­ers in the league. Now Myles Turner will have to step into the void, which is a big one. 4. At­lanta — That 60-win sea­son seems longer than two years ago. New GM Travis Sch­lenk ar­rives from the War­riors and it is go­ing to take him some time to tear things down and build them back up.

5. Chicago — Likely open­ing night start­ing five: Je­rian Grant, Justin Hol­i­day, Paul Zipser, Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez. Enough said.

WHAT TO KNOW

LEBRON’S FU­TURE: there are more than just whis­pers that James will leave the Cava­liers af­ter this sea­son, with the Lak­ers and Clip­pers as two po­ten­tial suit­ors. James has said he in­tends to fin­ish his ca­reer in Cleve­land, but that doesn’t fig­ure to quiet the ques­tions un­til he signs a new con­tract next sum­mer.

SIM­MONS DE­BUTS: 76ers G/F Ben Sim­mons, last year’s No. 1 over­all pick, missed the en­tire sea­son with a foot in­jury. He is ready to go this year, giv­ing the Six­ers even more hope that all the pain of the last few years is fi­nally be­hind them.

HAYWARD’S IM­PACT: Gor­don Hayward was one of the few stars to leave the Western Con­fer­ence for the East this sum­mer. How quickly he as­sim­i­lates with Irv­ing and Al Hor­ford will di­rectly im­pact Bos­ton’s abil­ity to un­seat the Cavs.

HOT SEAT: in a volatile in­dus­try, the NBA went an en­tire sea­son with­out a coach­ing change for the first time since 1963-64. The odds of that re­mark­able stretch of sta­bil­ity hold­ing un­til the start of next sea­son are re­mark­ably small. Van Gundy, Clifford, New York’s Jeff Hor­nacek and In­di­ana’s Nate McMil­lan en­ter the sea­son un­der scru­tiny.

CHUCK BUR­TON / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

The Bos­ton Celtics’ Kyrie Irv­ing sur­prised LeBron James and the Cleve­land Cava­liers when he re­quested a trade dur­ing the off-sea­son.

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