Oh, what could have been!

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By Dylan Botelho, Staff Writer

This article was written before the season opener.

There isn’t much the same between this and last season’s Celtics squad. A complete turnover left the one-seed Celtics, who were dominated by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, in a somehow better shape.

It’s not often, maybe not ever, that you can say a one-seed team returning only four players is better. Thanks to a historic NBA offseason, the Celtic’s made waves and are now set to at least contend against the NBA’s monster, the Golden State Warriors.

The Celtic’s went out and achieved almost every goal set for themselves this offseason. Early, however, fans had their doubts about the franchise’s direction. The Celtics had found their pot of gold, winning the first overall pick in the NBA Draft Lottery.

They did not keep it for long however and moved back from the first to the third overall pick to take ISO-specialist winger, Jayson Tatum. Tatum was to be the Celtics’ guy at number one either way, but Danny Ainge moved the pack to secure some future picks and still get his man.

Tatum to most, though, was no Markelle Fultz, the Celtics’ original target at number one. Through summer-league and four games of the preseason though, it looked like the Celtics made the right choice. Tatum has been a dominant scorer, even against NBA starters and may even see himself in the starting rotation this season. Drafting Tatum and acquiring another top 10 pick in the process was a huge win for the long-term future of the organization, but it will also help them win now.

Not long after, on July 4, the Celtics were able to secure their main-target in the NBA’s free-agent frenzy, former Brad Stevens protégée, Gordon Hayward. Hayward was a breakout star in Utah, where the struggling franchise finally had nothing left to try to please Hayward. They were falling from a low spot, the Celtics were climbing from a high-spot, it was no-brainer. Deadly from anywhere on the court, Hayward is exactly the type of player that you need to succeeded as a team in today’s NBA.

With the size and strength to defend most teams top scorer, or even help on LeBron James, Hayward is no slouch on the defense end. At only 27 years old, the Celtics have Hayward locked down until he’s 32, right in his prime.

In signing Hayward though, the Celtics had to move around a bunch of pieces to make the money right while attempting to fix a rebounding problem that plagued the Celtics last season. This may be the only Celtics downfall this offseason.

Fan-favorite and arguably the NBA’s best lockdown perimeter defender, Avery Bradley, was shipped off to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris. Yes, Morris will help that rebounding issue I spoke of earlier and is a solid power-forward, but it’s tough to see Avery Bradley go, especially for such a small draw. After moving Bradley, the Celtics brought in over-seas prospect Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes both of which can provide solid minutes off the bench and basically fill the roles of Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk, who won’t be returning from last season’s team after finding new homes in Philadelphia and Miami respectively.

And after all that, only one move really stands out. The Kyrie trade.

News leaked late in the summer that Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland and was sick of playing with LeBron. Immediately almost every team in the NBA scrambled together their assets to try and put together a package for Kyrie Irving.

Boston was always a team mentioned because well, we had the assets, but why would we trade for another point guard, Isaiah Thomas was our franchise player, there was no way two ball-dominant point-guards could work in a cohesive unit like that.

Plus, if we were going to keep Thomas, which duh of course we were, it would likely mean getting rid of Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, something most fans weren’t all too fond of. Besides all that, why would Boston and Cleveland trade with each other? At this point, we were bitter rivals, the only other team who stood in each other’s way.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first round pick. Wow. They did it, Danny Ainge finally pulled the trigger and moved his stock-pile of assets for a star. Why this star though? Isaiah Thomas was by all accounts the Celtics franchise player, and now he was headed off to Cleveland.

Well, with Thomas’s hip-injury being much worse than what team doctors had originally expected, and a new contract due next season, it was time to move on. Thomas would no doubt be offered a max-contract next season, the 5’9” point guard did average 28.9 points-per-game which was third in the league after all. Just like Bradley, it was a contract the Celtics at the time just couldn’t afford nor where anywhere near willing to pay.

Instead, they got younger, faster, and flashier. Kyrie Irving was for too long stuck behind LeBron James’s shadow, but now with a team to lead on his own, we could see an all-time season from Kyrie Irving. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that he’ll win the scoring title. With free reign to do what he wants, paired with quickness and the skill of the Celtics’ remaining starting five, Irving will have his way with teams this season.

Irving is only 25, and is still under-contract for two more seasons. He’s already expressed just how much he loves the city of Boston, saying he feels like he’s playing in a “real, live sports city” and talking about the “vast difference” between the atmospheres of Boston and Cleveland.

Irving’s father played basketball at Boston University, and has his number retired there, so his family roots in Boston already run deep. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Irving will re-sign in two years when his contract is up and will be the Celtics’ point guard for their upcoming continuous battle against the Golden State Warriors.

With Irving, Brown, Hayward (well…), Tatum, Horford, and Morris, the Celtics look like they are the Warriors closest contenders for a title this upcoming NBA season. They’ll still have to get by the Cavs, which will not be an easy feat. As long as LeBron James is putting on that Cavaliers jersey, they’re pretty much a lock for the NBA finals.

LeBron-led teams have made the NBA finals for the last seven consecutive years.If Brad Steven’s Celtics squad has anything to say about that though, it’ll end there. Celtics fans know just how deadly Isaiah Thomas is and if he is 100 percent healthy and in form by the time the playoffs come around, it will be a battle.

Irving knows the Cavs, Thomas though doesn’t know much about this new-look Celtics team, which could be the final factor that pushes the Celtics over the Cavs and into the pit that is the NBA Finals.

Photo Courtesy: masslive.com

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