It’s Celtics-Cavs in wa­tered-down East­ern Con­fer­ence

Manteca Bulletin - - Sports - By JON KRAWCZYNSKI

As 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 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 and 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 will they ac­count for the loss of Avery Bradley and Jae Crow­der on de­fense.

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 they can breathe a lit­tle more move­ment into their of­fense, 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 even 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 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 like 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.

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