By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Have we had our fill yet?
Yes, free agent to be LeBron James apparently wants to meet with the Celtics this summer. That’s fantastic, and I’m happy for him. In directly related news, I would also like a shot at being the Celtics’ fourth-string point guard (just picture Nate Robinson but without the talent). So gimme a shout, Danny Ainge. OK, that’s an extreme comparison if there ever was one.
But this is similar to Kevin Durant and his willingness to take a meeting with the Celtics in the Hamptons in 2016. Just with the Celtics — and the player potentially on the table, for that matter — in entirely different positions than they were back then.
Leaving me to hope that we all recognize that it’s borderline impossible for James to actually join the Celtics this summer.
Let’s start with the obvious elephant in the room: Celtics superstar Kyrie Irving hates LeBron like poison.
Of course, Irving is too enlightened to tell us that he has a genuine disdain for No. 23, but could it be more obvious? He demanded out of a winning situation in Cleveland because he didn’t want to be the second fiddle to James and his ego any longer. It’s actually the only reason that Kyrie is here in Boston. And why the Celtics aren’t currently planning (panicking) about a necessary exit strategy from the damaged goods known as Isaiah Thomas as the focal point of their offensive game.
Now, less than a year later and after having his first taste of being the on-court leader he always wanted to be, we’re to believe that Irving would accept shifting back to the backseat as James endears himself to Irving’s fanbase yet again? No chance.
Even meeting with James could cause irreparable harm to the Irving-Celtics relationship, which is not really something that should be of interest to the Celtics, especially with No. 11 having the ability to opt out of his contract next summer.
…But this is LeBron James. He’s Kyrie Irving. If he’s not willing to work with LeBron, then the C’s should dump him.
That’s great. But what if James meets with you, chases the money elsewhere, and now you’re left with a disgruntled Irving that no longer trusts your operation? You’ve missed out on the mid-30s superstar and upset your 26-year-old franchise cornerstone. This would be the quickest way for the Celtics to be left holding the bag and having to play catch-up on what was a promising championship window with Irving locked in and seemingly committed to a long-term fit with the Celtics.
Barring his knee truly disintegrating beyond repair, Irving will have a longer shelf life than James. That’s something that the Celtics — currently built to succeed for close to decade with the promise of their young — absolutely have to consider.
…But the Kyrie-LBJ feud seems like a thing of the past anyways. Look at the way they interacted in their meetings this year!
OK. Let’s give credit where it’s due: Both Irving and James handled their beef like professionals. They embraced before and after every Celtics-Cavaliers game this past season, and were even teammates at the All-Star Game. Irving even went as far as to say that ‘anything’s possible’ when asked about a potential reunion with his Cleveland teammate of three years. But playing nice for the cameras and getting along for one weekend is a lot different than being around one another for 82 games and four playoff rounds. You’re crazy if you think that Irving has any sort of legitimate interest in rolling with that sideshow again.
While I will never question LeBron’s dedication to basketball (how could anybody at this point?), it’s beyond clear that the Irving has no interest in the on- and off-court distractions that Life With LeBron comes with. Kyrie just wants to ball. That’s it.
…But think about the rings, you dummy!
Of course on both fronts. One: You’re absolutely right that I’m a dummy. Two: The Celtics, even with the cap finagling needed to fit James in (likely at the expense of Kyrie, Gordon Hayward, or Al Horford), would be the favorites in the East with LeBron in the fold. James and the remaining crew in Boston would be enough to legitimately challenge Golden State, too.
But for James to truly work in Boston, he would need to be somebody besides the player he’s been for 15 years. Holding your breath on James changing his DNA as an alpha control freak at this point in his career — with over 44,000 regular-season minutes logged and almost 10,000 more via postseason play — is akin to waiting for 2018 JR Smith to make a clutch three-pointer when his team needs it in crunch time. You’re going to be disappointed and probably die before it happens.
Brad Stevens, despite his lack of love from his peers, has emerged as perhaps the NBA’s second-best coach behind Gregg Popovich. James trying to side-eye or question Stevens, a coach that will openly acknowledges James as a revolutionary talent whenever given the chance, like he did to Erik Spoelstra, David Blatt, and Tyronn Lue would not fly in Boston. The rest of the locker room seemingly has too much respect for Stevens to be a willing participant in the LeBron Show potentially overthrowing the coach that’s been worth his weight in gold in terms of the Celtics’ ability to match wits with the NBA’s best.
And James trying to tell Ainge, the man that’s made highway robberies a regular occurrence on the trade market, how to do his job and make legitimate suggestions on how the C’s should build their roster would not fly. Keep in mind that James was the one that told the Cleveland front office to give JR Smith his money, had a say in the Cavs’ “bring every dinosaur in” approach last summer, and was then left in the dark when it came to the Irving-to-Boston trade for fear of his potential interference.
…So what? This is LeBron James. He’s worth more than whatever Ainge and Brad Stevens have built.
Sure, but one big point? The Celtics do not need James. It’s honestly that simple, even when talking about an all-time great.
Keep in mind that the Celtics still haven’t had a complete run with their projected roster at 100 percent — Hayward missed all but five minutes of the regular season and playoffs and Irving missed all three rounds of postseason action — and still came within one win of the NBA Finals. The core of that team will be back next year, and their biggest offseason losses could come with Marcus Smart cashing in with an offer sheet elsewhere, as well as roleplayers like often-starting center Aron Baynes and fourth-string point guard Shane Larkin pricing themselves out of Boston after successful seasons in The Hub. If their losses are the Celtics’ greatest concerns heading into an offseason that could see James leave the East, then everything’s awesome.
And when you have a healthy Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum as your wings (and with Marcus Morris behind them) — and everything else — in an incredibly watered down East, James is not the need that he would be for most teams.
Now, maybe James just wants to play basketball and he wouldn’t even want to be a de facto player-coach-president. Or even be the ball-dominant player that’s carried the Cavs to four straight Finals (and truly carried them this year).
But the truth is that every team that acquires LeBron sells their soul to get him.
They ride that train for a few years and come crashing back down, left to rebuild from ruins.
Compromising the structure of what you’ve built faster than anybody possibly imagined on such a slim hope (perhaps prayer is the better word) of James changing doesn’t seem like something that would really fit in Boston.
Welp, at least it was a fun 24 hours.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.