If for some reason you missed his announcement on Thursday, LeBron James is returning to the Cavaliers.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. “I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
Over the next 24 hours, you’ll see thousands of stories about what LeBron’s decision means to Cleveland (everything), Miami (oh, man) and the NBA in general (those ripple effects won’t reach shore for quite some time), but what exactly does it mean for the Celtics?
LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland immediately makes the Cavs a contender. While James admitted the team’s rookie head coach and youthful roster makes a title this season far from easy, a supporting cast of Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Anderson Varejao isn’t a bad start.
Given the youth surrounding the game’s best player — only 29 years old himself — Danny Ainge‘s job just became that much more difficult for the foreseeable future. Conservatively, the Cavaliers could be contenders through 2020.
Of course, LeBron will also lure more talent to Cleveland. Chief among his recruits could be Kevin Love, who the Celtics have coveted for the past several months. The Cavaliers could offer Wiggins, Waiters, Varejao’s expiring contract and a future first-round pick for Love, potentially beating any offer Ainge could create. (Ironically, the Cavs still own a protected No. 1 pick from the Heat as a result of LeBron’s sign-and-trade in 2010.)
If the C’s lose out on Love to Cleveland, Ainge would only have himself to blame, since his recent three-team deal created the cap space necessary for the Cavs to sign James. Still, it’s hard to hold Ainge entirely responsible for LeBron landing in Cleveland, since Dan Gilbert would have created space come hell or high water.
The Celtics also acquired a first-round pick from the Cavaliers in the trade for Marcus Thornton and Tyler Zeller, so LeBron’s decision just made that pick a whole lot less attractive. However, the Celtics own Miami’s second-round pick in 2016, and that could be somewhere in the 30s should Chris Bosh sign in Houston as expected.
Wherever James ultimately landed — Miami or Cleveland — the Eastern Conference was always going to go through LeBron for the next several years, so in that regard little else has changed for Ainge. In fact, the currently constructed Cavaliers may not be the immediate force that the Heat have been for the past four years. Regardless, Ainge’s focus remains on landing Love, and LeBron’s return to Cleveland just made that more difficult.