With the early success, and the new-look Boston Celtics have had, it’s easy to forget how the team looked a year ago. Eleven guys, from star player to the end of the bench, and everything in between, no longer wear the green. The 2016-2017 Celtics were full of overachievers. The team couldn’t afford to keep everyone. The roster overhaul was one for the ages. I felt it was necessary to take a look around the league to see how these former Celtics are doing in their new roles.
This will be a two-part article, first covering the players that were traded, looking at the management side of things. Then, a follow-up will focus on the players that left in free agency and where they chose to sign, since there was more choice and usually ends with more joy than pain. Let’s start with the pain.
Ainge Trades Heart and Soul
Isaiah Thomas was understandably shook up by the trade that sent him and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He finally felt like he found a home in Boston, and gave everything he had to the team and city. Isaiah played until he literally couldn’t run anymore. He fought through a hip injury to have some truly gritty performances in the playoffs. This included a 53-point game against the Wizards in the second round on his sister’s birthday. She passed away weeks before, and Isaiah didn’t miss a game. That game epitomized everything IT was talking about in this quote. Fighting like hell through a serious injury, and perhaps more excruciating, a personal tragedy.
“I might not ever talk to Danny again. That might not happen. I’ll talk to everybody else. But what he did, knowing everything I went through, you don’t do that, bro. That’s not right.”
It’s easy to sympathize with IT’s point of view, but Danny Ainge didn’t exactly throw him to the wolves. Actually, he made sure he set up all his former players nicely. At least, to the degree that he had control over it. He made some genius moves in the offseason, but what gets overlooked is how well he set up the players he was shipping out.
Thomas wanted to be a Celtic for life. What he accomplished in his short time in Boston surely won’t be forgotten. But what he does in his next chapter as a Cavalier is what really matters for him now. He made his season debut on January 2nd, scoring 17 points in just 19 minutes. In his second game, he scored 19 points in 21 minutes. He is already showing he is ready to put the injury behind him, the last order of business before his separation from Boston is complete.
Seeing him playing for a different team was weird, but it was good to see him get in and contribute at a high level. He is in a perfect situation playing alongside LeBron James, something that will allow him to work with much more space than he’s accustomed to. There were times when he was triple teamed with the Celtics. Now, he’ll be shocked if he sees a double team at all. He’s a perfect complementary star, and should thrive in his role in Cleveland. They will be a true force this year, and are still the team to beat in the East.
Another big piece in the trade that brought Kyrie to Boston has been playing for the Cavs since the beginning of the season. When he heard of the trade, he didn’t really have time to think about it because his mom passed away on the same day. He apparently got to tell her of the trade before she passed, stating that “they were going to Cleveland to win a championship.” He took the news as an overall positive and didn’t foster any hard feelings as IT did.
Underwhelming to this point, Crowder was noticeably more active in IT’s first game back. He scored 17 points on 50% shooting and posted a full stat line. It was perhaps Crowder’s best game this season, as he showed great chemistry with his old pal. This comes as no surprise to Celtics fans, as the two were staples in the starting unit for a close Celtics team last year. Crowder should continue to perform better with his old running mate back in the lineup. He should be back in the starting unit now. Right next to IT, where his value is maximized.
Avery to the Pistons was the first trade of the offseason for the Celtics. It was a move done to free up cap space to sign Gordon Hayward. The Celtics got Marcus Morris on a two-year value contract in return, so the deal wasn’t terrible for the Celtics. It wasn’t bad for Bradley either. He went to a team that saw him as an important piece to their continued progress. After missing the playoffs last year, they started off the season hot with Bradley. They are in the middle of the playoff hunt again this year.
Bradley has had a slow year thus far, with averages similar to last years, aside from averaging about 4 less rebounds a game. Rebounding was a strength of his on the Celtics, but Drummond takes up most of the boards on the Pistons. Bradley is really turning into a glorified 3 & D player in Detroit. He is shooting 40% from three which is a slight uptick from 39% last year. With Reggie Jackson out for extended time, he should see more touches offensively in the near future. Now is his time to show his new coach and team what he can do.
Looking Towards the Future
Avery Bradley praised the Celtics for helping him get his career started. He looks at his time in Boston as growth. Jae Crowder was equally grateful for the opportunity he got in Boston. At the same time, he looked ahead with wide eyes at the opportunity that awaited him in Cleveland.
Ironically, the man who was put in the best situation of all- starring next to the best player in the world- has had the hardest time accepting the reality of it. IT has said the trade hurt him, and it hurt us as fans. But when he realizes how well his new situation is for his future, that pain will start to turn to joy, as it has for us fans when we see how well off we are for the future. Something that wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the hefty contributions by these three, especially Mighty IT.