Dropping Dimes: Are the Celtics ready to challenge the Cavs?

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Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, left, and Gordon Hayward look on from the bench during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Boston on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Irving and Hayward are the Celtics’ biggest additions from what was an active offseason.

Welcome to the 2017-18 NBA season. Odds are, it will be pretty much the same as the last one.

The Golden State Warriors will win the West and the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the East. Then, barring Draymond Green losing his wits, the Warriors will win their third championship in four seasons.

Right? There is no reason to believe there will any other outcome, is there?

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Well, you say, what about the Boston Celtics? Irving, Hayward, Tatum are joining the team that finished with the best record in the East and reached the conference finals.

Sure, sure. But before anyone anoints the Celtics as kings of the East, we have to remember who they are trying to dethrone.

Whether he’s resided in South Beach or Ohio, and no matter who has been riding his coattails, LeBron James has led his team to the past seven NBA Finals.

Many contenders have risen up, but always stumble back down to earth. The last incarnation of the Celtics was the first challenger; the franchise has since started over and rebuilt. The Bulls looked like they had potential, but that never went anywhere. Nor have the Raptors.

The Celtics finished 2016-17 with the East’s best record, yet nobody expected them to unseat the Cavs. And they didn’t, falling in the East Finals four games to one.

Cleveland should be as good as it was last year, which was about as good as it was the previous two seasons — since James arrived back in town. The Cavs lost Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, but in return received Boston’s best player, Isaiah Thomas.

I.T. won’t be ready to play until early 2018, but it doesn’t really matter, but he really has until May or June to heal — James won’t need him until then.

So that’s what the Celtics are dealing with.

They weren’t good enough last year; are they better this season?

Maybe.

Getting Gordon Hayward without giving up anything other than a rich man’s money should definitely be an upgrade. Likewise former Duke star Jayson Tatum, who only cost the draft’s third pick.

Irving is probably better than Thomas. But that’s not without argument, and with the way Thomas played last year, the margin is slim.

Irving has spent most of his career as the second-best player on the Cavs. Can he carry the load of Boston’s top player as well as Thomas did? Can he do so without freezing out the rest of the team? It’s a delicate balance, and developing chemistry between Irving, Hayward and holdover Al Horford might take some time.

Discussing his trade from Boston to Cleveland with Sports Illustrated, Thomas said of the Celtics, “They lost a lot of heart and soul.”

It’s true, they did. Not just Thomas, but Jae Crowder, too, who also was traded to Cleveland (and might be a perfect fit in a Draymond Green-type role).

Marcus Smart remains, but who will join him in setting the team’s attitude? The Morris brother the Celtics acquired, Marcus, seems to have some crazy in him, which might make him capable of filling in for Crowder.

Even Irving showed potential this past week when he told reporters, “Boston, I’m driving in and (thinking), ‘I’m really playing in a real, live sports city?’”

The hubris it takes to throw shade like that at his former team’s city might just be what the Celtics need to take over the Eastern Conference.

Let’s also not forget the expected further growth of second-year forward Jaylen Brown, who had some tremendous moments as a rookie in 2016-17.

So, yeah, the Celtics could definitely take down the Cavs this year.

But will they?

The most responsible and reasonable answer is, “Probably not.”

Lee Horton is the assistant sports editor at the Sun Journal. Tell him how wrong he is at lhorton@sunjournal.com.

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