Cavaliers-Celtics blockbuster provides NBA fans with even more fun

Michael Grange joins Sportsnet Central to break down the massive trade that had Kyrie Irving head to Boston with Isaiah Thomas going to the Cavaliers in return.

The opening game of the NBA season – the very first one of the 2,460 scheduled for 2017-18 – features the Boston Celtics visiting the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It starts at 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 17.

I wonder if anyone will watch?

At this point trying to gauge the entertainment value of the rumoured, pending, and actual player movement in the NBA is like gazing deeply into a clear night sky and trying to count stars.

You can’t. Eventually you just shrug your shoulders and acknowledge it’s lots and lots and lots.

“Infinity, dad?”

“That sounds about right, junior.”

To recap just the latest, most phantasmagorical development: Cavaliers finally found a suitor for their disgruntled superstar point guard, Kyrie Irving, whose out-of-the-blue “get me out of here” power move was the storyline in what was already an NBA off-season stuffed with them.

Their dance partner?

That would be the Celtics, who are sending Cleveland their all-world point guard, Isaiah Thomas, along with rugged 3-and-D wing Jae Crowder and rights to the Brooklyn Nets‘ 2018 first-round pick, and the Celtics’ 2016 first-rounder: big man Ante Zizic, thrown for cap ballast.

Where that leaves the rest of the Eastern Conference is a sidebar, at the moment. But safe to say that if the Toronto Raptors were hoping that the chaotic Cavs would be easier pickings this season, those hopes are gone, and if James ends up staying in what could be a rejuvenated Cavs organization beyond 2017-18, their dreams of filling the void left by LeBron heading west in the twilight of his career may have been dashed.

But in the meantime, what entertainment.

If you watched the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals – where they were decimated by the Cavs with Irving – and took note of Thomas’ inspirational performance in the wake of his sister’s death in a car accident and how Boston rallied around their gutsy 5-foot-10 dynamo and thought, “Wow, Celtics president Danny Ainge is one ice-cold individual”, you’d be thinking the same thing as me.

Remove the small detail that the Eastern Conference’s two best teams just flipped all-star point guards, and it’s a perfectly explainable deal for both sides.

The Cavs, in a jam the moment the enigmatic Irving decided he couldn’t play one more season as LeBron’s co-star, have made out beautifully after an off-season that very much gave the appearance things were unravelling after the unceremonious departure of general manager David Griffin, Irving’s demands, and persistent rumours that James is leaving next summer for the Los Angeles Lakers.

There is a very short list of primary ball-handlers that can score at will in the NBA and Irving may be at the top of it – as he proved with his scintillating Finals performance – but Thomas is right there.

In one fell swoop, the Cavaliers got a more-than-adequate replacement for Irving’s punch in Thomas (both guards are almost comically indifferent defenders) and added in Crowder a high-energy, defensive-minded wing who shot 39.8 per cent from three last season and is just 26.

Getting the Celtics to throw in the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick gives Cleveland an essential building block for the future should James indeed bolt in free agency a year from now.

What does Boston get?

With Thomas heading coming off hip surgery this summer and heading into free agency when he’ll be 29, they avoided having to commit a long and lucrative contract to a player whose age doesn’t match the window of a team Ainge hopes will contend now and well after LeBron has finished ruling the East.

Irving is the best player in the deal, is under contract for two more seasons, is three years younger, and has starred in consecutive NBA Finals and has a championship ring to prove it.

The Celtics may or may not be better now, but with Irving they have a chance to be better, longer.

It’s a deal that makes perfect sense for both sides, although if I were giving grades I’d give an A-plus to the Cavaliers – they’re a better team than the one that lost to the Warriors in June with the addition of Thomas and Crowder, and a chance at the first-overall pick in 2018 is a worthy consolation prize if it has to break everything up next summer.

Flip side? If Thomas and James mesh, that pick could be the carrot that lands them the last piece they need to match up with the Warriors juggernaut next June.

The possibilities are endless.

Boston? They get an A-minus. Irving is a perfect fit and an all-world talent – if unproven as a winner outside LeBron’s shadow – but they will miss Crowder, even if he may have been expendable with the addition of Gordon Hayward in the off-season. And by giving up the last of their Brooklyn booty, they are no longer about theoretical potential. It is now time to work towards a championship and until their young pieces – Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in particular – demonstrate they are at that level, the jury will be out.

For the moment you wouldn’t be wrong in simply sitting back in awe of the spectacle of the NBA’s off-season and the plot-twisting entertainment it never fails to provide.

“May the games never begin” could be an NBA fan’s new mantra.

But then you look at the schedule and see Boston at Cleveland to open the season – as if arranged by the hidden hand of Adam Silver himself – and you realize they can’t get here soon enough.

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