Tomase: Six months after trade, Kyrie Irving everything Celtics could've hoped for

John Tomase
February 23, 2018 - 5:04 pm
Kyrie Irving

Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports


Kyrie Irving so quickly and completely made the Celtics his team, it feels like he's been here forever.

But in reality, it's only been half a year. Thursday marked the six-month anniversary of the stunning deal that brought Irving to Boston and sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the last precious Brooklyn pick to Cleveland for Irving, a four-time All-Star, one-time champion, and former No. 1 overall pick.

One hundred and eighty-five days later, the audacity of the decision on all sides remains breathtaking. Pulling the trigger for the Celtics meant parting with Thomas after one of the greatest individual seasons in team history, not to mention surrendering a pick from a team that had just given you the first selection the draft.

For the Cavs, it was a pre-emptive action meant to address the specter of life without LeBron. Get a head start on the rebuild, address a lack of depth that proved fatal in the NBA Finals, and add a pick that could jumpstart whatever comes next.

The party we didn't consider as thoroughly from an agency standpoint was Irving. A recent ESPN report helped fill in the blanks about what motivated his desire to seek a trade -- specifically an informal meeting of Cavaliers management and coaches on draft day where they pondered possible returns for the All-Star point guard.

Word reached Irving about the discussion, and within two weeks, he wanted out. Landing in Boston at that point seemed remote, and yet here we are. As big a jackpot as the Celtics hit, the return could be considered even greater for Irving, who avoided two wasted years in a pointless outpost like Sacramento and instead starts for one of the best teams in the East.

"I was actually talking to my best friend, Alex, about it," Irving said in a recent ESPN interview. "I have moments with them where I'm like, man, we're really somewhere else right now. It's just something different. It was a big chance. Babe Ruth said it: 'Swings big, may not miss big, he may hit a home run.' I don't know. But seriously, I'm glad I took a chance with what I wanted to do with my career."

There's certainly no looking back for the Celtics, who open the second half on Friday against Detroit and have ridden Irving to a 40-19 record and second seed in the Eastern Conference despite a season-ending injury to forward Gordon Hayward. In short order, Irving has earned the first-name treatment among fans while taking the leadership reins of the Celtics like the alpha he wanted to be after escaping LeBron's shadow.

Irving doesn't just star on the floor. He leads cheers from the bench, faces the media with a calm demeanor when things aren't going well (which hasn't been often), and might be the most popular player in the league when it comes to postgame kibitzing. With the Celtics still one star away from truly contending, they could hardly ask for a better ambassador.

While questions about Irving's future remain -- free agency looms a year from now, assuming he opts out of the final year of his contract -- the more immediate goal is righting the ship for the Celtics, who listed into the All-Star break with three straight losses.

Danger lurks throughout the East, whether it's the retooled Cavs (turns out the return for Irving was decidedly underwhelming), the young unicorns in Philly, the Andre Drummond-Blake Griffin pairing in Detroit, the resurgent Bucks and superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, the looming return of John Wall in Washington, or the incredibly deep Raptors.

To counter their rivals, the young Celtics turn to Kyrie, and his presence alone makes it feel like they have a chance. Six months later, neither side has any regrets, as Irving made clear when asked by ESPN if he pictures himself raising an 18th banner in Boston.

"It's something I think about every day," he said with a faraway look. "I think about it every day. Yeah. Yeah."

Half a year ago, we couldn't have conceived of Kyrie Irving in a Celtics uniform. Now we can't imagine the Celtics without him.

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