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BOSTON – There may be no love lost for the Celtics from Cleveland’s perspective, but the Cavs have sure is plenty of respect for their Eastern Finals foe.
There are many ties between the Celtics and the Cavaliers, beginning at the very top of Cleveland’s organization. LeBron James, the pillar of the franchise, has faced Boston in the postseason during seven of his 13 career playoff runs. After seeing them up close and personal so many times, James has built a genuine respect for what the Celtics organization stands for.
“They always put themselves in position to win championships,” he said Tuesday morning, ahead of Cleveland’s shootaround. “That’s what it’s about here.”
He peered up and to his left, toward Boston’s 17 banners, and added, “Just look up at the rafters.”
The Celtics missed the Playoffs during the 2013-14 season, and James swept them out of the Playoffs in April of 2015. Still, the all-time great understood that during those times, Boston was positioning itself for long-term success.
“Even though they’ve had some losing seasons,” James said, “they’ve always had the mindset of how they can figure out how to get back to a championship level.”
Danny Ainge has been the mastermind of that operation since he was hired to run the team’s basketball operations back in 2003. Over the last handful of years, since fleecing the Brooklyn Nets in the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade, Ainge’s work has become somewhat of an urban legend.
One must turn back many pages in Boston’s history books – at least a half-decade – to find the last time Ainge came out on the wrong end of a deal. Tyronn Lue, current head coach of the Cavaliers and former assistant coach with Boston, is one person who has taken notice of the mastery with which Ainge operates.
“You want him on your side,” said Lue. “He always gets the best deals. He always makes the right moves.”
One such move was to provide Lue with his very first coaching opportunity. Back in 2009, Ainge gave Doc Rivers permission to hire Lue as Boston’s director of basketball development, which was essentially an assistant coach position. Just more than five years later, Lue finally became a head coach with the Cavs.
Lue spoke Tuesday morning about his experience of working within the Celtics organization.
“It was great, to have a chance to coach with one of the best coaches in our league, Doc Rivers,” Lue said. “I learned a lot.”
One of the things he learned was how to create and maintain a culture within a team.
“It’s a great organization. Everything is first-class,” he said of the Celtics. “They do things the right way.”
Lue isn’t the only member of Cleveland that knows, first-hand, how Boston operates. Three other Cavaliers were once Celtics, including one who won a title with Boston and another who spent parts of four seasons with the organization.
Kendrick Perkins, who was the starting center for the 2008 title team, recently signed with the Cavs to provide leadership during their postseason run. Jeff Green spent two of his four seasons in green playing under Brad Stevens. Ante Zizic, meanwhile, was drafted by the Celtics in in 2016 and spent two years working with the team on his development before being traded to Cleveland during the offseason.
All three of those players, as well as James and Lue, understand how great of an organization Boston is, and how much tradition it has. The Cavs don’t want to be another chapter in that history book, but they do have to respect it.