Tomase: Say hello to the superstar, because Kyrie Irving is what Celtics desperately needed

John Tomase
August 22, 2017 - 10:51 pm
Kyrie Irving

David Richard/USA Today Sports


CLEVELAND -- Remember what it felt like when the Red Sox acquired Pedro Martinez, the Patriots got Randy Moss, and the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett?

The Celtics just blew them all out of Lake Erie.

For years, Danny Ainge told us he couldn't win without a transcendent player, and on Tuesday his search ended in the most unlikely place imaginable -- via a trade with his biggest rival.

If there's a gutsier deal between contenders, it's not springing to mind. But before we get bogged down in the details, let's make sure we're clear on the most relevant fact.

Kyrie Irving is now a member of the Boston Celtics.

That's Kyrie Irving, owner of the tightest handle in the NBA. Frame-by-frame slow motion exists to confirm he's not actually teleporting from the paint to the rim, the ball on a string and Irving disapparating like something out of Harry Potter.

That's Kyrie Irving, the cornerstone of Cleveland's first stab at life without LeBron. He only needed to appear in 11 games at Duke to become the No. 1 pick in the draft. He was an All-Star a year later.

That's Kyrie Irving, maker of the biggest shot in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His contested 3-point dagger in the final minute of the final game of the 2016 NBA Finals delivered LeBron the title he so desperately wanted to bring home. Had Irving not gotten hurt in the 2015 Finals, it might've been a repeat.

Now he wears Celtics green, and Ainge's quest to build another champion in Boston just kicked into hyperdrive. Isaiah Thomas, bless him, was an amazing player and galvanizing figure who embraced being the face of the Celtics. We'll miss him terribly.

But Irving exists on an entirely different plane. He's three years younger, seven inches taller, and infinitely more explosive, which is saying something. I'll be shocked if Larry Bird's single-season franchise scoring record of 29.9 points per game still stands three years from now.

Irving is a superstar who has yet to peak. Six years into his career, he wants to prove he can win a title as centerpiece, not supporting cast member. He'll get that chance in Boston, where the Celtics can pair him alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford in the near term, with Jaylen Brown, Jason Tatum, and another potential lottery pick blossoming in the next five years, long after LeBron has taken his talents to Tinseltown, but before another legit contender takes root in the woebegone Eastern Conference.

The Celtics could be perennial finalists, and that wasn't going to happen with Thomas, who could either depart next year in free agency, or tie up too much of the team's resources in a potentially frail body as he entered his 30s.

What Ainge has done since the end of the Eastern Conference Finals is nothing short of astounding. He traded the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and acquired Tatum. He sent guard Avery Bradley to the Pistons to make room for Hayward. With Jae Crowder joining Thomas in the Irving trade, the Celtics have now traded four of their starting five players. The longest-tenured Celtic is guard Marcus Smart. The only other holdovers from last year are Horford, Terry Rozier, and Brown.

Ainge recognized the Celtics weren't true contenders, and he acted. With a potential top-five pick from the Lakers still in play, he's not done building, either.

But today isn't about anyone other than Irving. When the Red Sox acquired Martinez from the Expos in 1997, we knew we were getting a star -- Martinez had just won his first Cy Young Award -- but he played in Montreal. He existed primarily in box scores and highlights of the occasional bean brawl. We had no idea he'd end up in the Hall of Fame.

For his part, Moss seemed to have reached the end of superstardom in Oakland. Who saw 25 touchdowns and the separation celebration coming?

Garnett remained a star, but he had never won anything in Minnesota, and the Celtics were getting him in his 30s. Only later would he teach us that anything's possible.

Irving is different. The only athlete whose acquisition matches his wow factor might be Indians outfielder Manny Ramirez, who joined the Red Sox as a free agent in his prime in 2000 in a similar holy crap moment. (A-Rod would've trumped them both, but praise small miracles and MLBPA greed, it wasn't meant to be).

Opponents of this move raise defensible points. If Thomas and Crowder play to last year's level, the Cavaliers not only remain favorites in the East, they could legitimately challenge Golden State. You might've just made them better. At least until LeBron leaves.

Meanwhile, Irving has only made a single All-NBA third team. He forced his way out of Cleveland because he didn't like playing in LeBron's shadow. He's a defensive liability. He believes the earth is flat.

Consider me unmoved, because here's how I counter all of the above.

Kyrie Irving is a mother-bleeping Celtic. Say it out loud. It's real, and it's amazing.

Comments ()