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In your mind, have the Celtics’ summer transactions pushed them over the top in the East for 2017-18? Why or why not?
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Fran Blinebury: As long as a healthy LeBron James is pulling on a Cleveland jersey, there’s your favorite. The Cavaliers have gotten a potential scorer to replace Irving, a solid front line defender in Jae Crowder and have enough other pieces to get back to The Finals. Putting Irving in a lineup that has already added Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris certainly narrows the gap. But the Cavs have been there, done that, while the Celtics still have much to prove. Can’t underestimate the losses of Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Yes. I was not as convinced after the Gordon Hayward signing alone, giving the Cavaliers a slight edge as the defending champion that did not get worse. But now the trade is a gain for the Celtics and a loss for the Cavs at the same time. Dismissing Cleveland would be foolish. But if the season started today, Boston should open as the East favorite.
Shaun Powell: Absolutely not. The Cavs still have pole position because the Cavs have LeBron. It’s arguable that the Celtics are even a better team today than they were yesterday; depth will be an issue as Boston has only four players returning from last year’s roster. All Ainge is doing is putting together a nucleus good enough for a takeover, and this assumes Kyrie will sign long-term to join Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.
John Schuhmann: Swapping Avery Bradley for Gordon Hayward certainly made them a better team, but the gap between the Cavs and Celtics (in the playoffs, at least) was pretty wide last year. Swapping Thomas for Irving and sacrificing Crowder doesn’t necessarily make them better. Boston was ahead of Cleveland in the Power Rankings earlier this month, but that was largely due to the Cavs’ turmoil and the uncertainty regarding what they’d get for Irving. Right now, Cleveland would probably be back on top, though the drama regarding LeBron James’ impending free agency still exists.
Sekou Smith: The only way the Celtics’ summer transactions could have pushed them over the top in the East is if they’d have traded for LeBron James. Seriously — there is no pushing, crawling or vaulting over the top if LeBron remains in the way. His recent track record of leading his team to The Finals makes that painfully clear to the rest of the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have mounted the very best challenge I’ve seen since LeBron’s return to Cleveland, though. Adding the second best player from the best team in the East certainly aids that cause. And Gordon Hayward was a huge free agent get for Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens. But it’s not enough to push the Celtics over the top of LeBron and the Cavaliers.
Ian Thomsen: Everything looks promising in Boston right now, and the Celtics may even run away with the best record in the East. But when it’s time to meet Cleveland in the playoffs, don’t you think LeBron is going to be committed to beating Kyrie? LeBron’s streak of seven straight NBA Finals is the closest thing we’ve seen to Bill Russell’s run, and we know that Russell, if he’d ever faced this type of circumstance, would not have lost to a former teammate like Irving. Apart from Kyrie’s feud with the world’s greatest player, there is also the question of Boston’s defensive leadership, which is not a coaching issue. The Celtics will defend at a championship level only if their best players are insistent on doing so. If they make that commitment then all things can be possible. But it is something that cannot be taken for granted.
Lang Whitaker: Over what top? They won 53 games a season ago and finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. They were already a really good team. I do think the additions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward make Boston a more multifaceted team than they were a season ago, when they were so reliant on Isaiah Thomas to score. But with the subtractions of Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley, they are not any better defensively than they were a season ago, and for all the roster moves they’ve made, they still haven’t addressed their biggest issue: They have to figure out a way to beat LeBron James four times in a seven game series. Good luck figuring that one out.