Reimer: Celtics back at center of NBA universe

Alex Reimer
October 17, 2017 - 2:21 pm

Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports

The Celtics are back in championship contention. But that’s not why Tuesday’s game against the Cavaliers might be the most highly anticipated season opener in franchise history. 

The Celtics are at the center of the NBA universe, immersed in the ongoing drama the league thrives on. They acquired one of the more enigmatic athletes in sports, Kyrie Irving, who wanted to leave Cleveland and abandon the best player in the world, LeBron James. When asked about his surprise trade request, Irving rarely offers a straight answer –– which only adds to the intrigue. Instead, he talks about living inside of a reality-based aura or how he refuses to operate within a false world. 

OK, then. 

Irving won’t say whether he carries personal animus towards James, but the hints are pretty strong. The 25-year-old point guard admits he never consulted James on his way out of Cleveland. “Why would I have to (speak to James)?,” he asked on ESPN’s “First Take” last month. 

Isaiah Thomas is more open about his feelings on the deal. The beloved underdog told Sports Illustrated recently he may never speak with Celtics general manager Danny Ainge again, because he feels so betrayed. Thomas, whose sister died one day before the playoffs, now says he wished he never played in the postseason last year. He did further damage to his hip, which will likely keep him out of action until at least January. It also delayed the trade’s completion, and instantaneously turned Thomas from a superstar to damaged goods

“I actually think this was a good lesson,” Thomas wrote in a reflective Players’ Tribune essay. “Not only for me, but for the league as a whole. And for the fans and the media, too, you know, just in terms of how they talk about guys changing teams. I was thinking about that last year with KD and his free agency — about how people gave him such a hard time for doing what he felt was best for him and his future. How they turned him into a villain, just for doing what was his right to do as a free agent in this league. Suddenly, it was, “Oh, he’s selfish,” or, “Oh, he’s a coward.” Suddenly, just for doing business on his end, and doing right by himself, he was portrayed as this bad guy.”

It’s apparent the trade affected Thomas in profound ways. He’s playing for more than a championship and maximum contract this season. He’s playing to stick it to Ainge. That’s good for those of us who watch. 

It’s been a while since the Celtics were in this position. Even during the KG, Pierce and Ray Allen era, the landscape was different. Social media was in its relative infancy and the news cycle still occasionally rested. Plus, they were all well into their 30s, looking to add the biggest notch onto their Hall of Fame resumes. Irving, meanwhile, is just beginning to write his story –– and keeps talking about how he wants to grow off the court as well. 

While Garnett was reclusive away from the arena, Irving seems to relish inserting himself into the daily discourse. One of the bigger NBA side stories from the last year is whether he thinks the earth is flat (hint: he does not). 

During a pre-season conference call Monday, Paul Pierce talked about the potential challenges Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford may face trying to mesh with each other early this season. But with the Celtics readying themselves to take the floor in Cleveland Tuesday, that isn’t close to the top storyline on people’s minds. Do you even remember they signed Hayward, the biggest free agent acquisition in franchise history?

Hayward's arrival is now an afterthought. That’s how dramatic this Celtics season could be. 

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