BOSTON CELTICS (0-0)
at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (0-0)
Tip-off: Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Cleveland -3, Total: 212
The NBA regular season opens with Kyrie Irving's return to Cleveland on Tuesday.In what was widely considered to be the craziest offseason in NBA history, the craziest event of all was Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving asking for a trade from Cleveland and LeBron James, the player whose arrival had brought Irving to three straight NBA Finals. Actually, the craziest thing was what happened next: Irving was traded to rival Boston for PG Isaiah Thomas, SF Jae Crowder, C Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets' first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. It was the wildest trade in recent memory. "Itís a trade you make in NBA2K. Itís not a trade you make in real life," Thomas told Sports Illustrated. The deal was just part of a complete overhaul to the Celtics roster, which earned the No. 1 seed in the East last season. Only four players from that team remain in Boston. Cleveland, meanwhile, has James on the last year of his contract and will have a completely new look without Irving as his sidekick. Given how Cavs fans typically respond to players leaving their city, expect a rude reception for Kyrie when the season opens in Cleveland on Tuesday night. Thomas is expected to be out for the Cavaliers until around Christmas, while James' status is uncertain for opening night due to an ankle injury he sustained during the regular season. He has never missed an opener in his career.
Leaving the Celtics this offseason alongside Thomas and Crowder were Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson, all key players at various points of Boston's three consecutive playoff appearances. While Thomas grew increasingly ball-dominant over the course of his time there, Brad Stevens' offense is known for featuring plenty of ball movement. Everyone around the league is curious to see how Irving fits in. He's the league's most exciting dribbler and its most creative finisher at the rim, and he sported the ninth-highest usage rate in the league last season (30.7%) despite ostensibly playing second fiddle to James. Much talk in the preseason has been dedicated to him becoming more of a "true" point guard, and we'll see on Tuesday just how far he has come in that respect. SF Gordon Hayward also joined the Celtics in dramatic fashion this offseason, albeit via free agency. Hayward was the best offensive player on a Utah Jazz team that made it to the second round of the treacherous Western Conference playoffs last season, and Boston fans had had their eyes on him for years. He's skilled at positioning himself to score off the ball, which would seem to make him a good fit alongside Irving. C Al Horford and PG Marcus Smart return as key cogs from last year's team. Smart looks slimmer after changing his diet in the offseason, and he now stands out as easily Boston's best perimeter defenders. The Celtics also having a promising duo of No. 3 overall picks from the last two drafts in SF Jaylen Brown and incoming rookie SF Jayson Tatum. Both figure to play significant roles on this year's team.
"He's getting older, like me," Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue said about James' ankle injury that has him questionable for Tuesday. He was joking, but with James two months away from his 33rd birthday, entering his 15th season in the league and having played in the last seven NBA Finals, the wear and tear on LeBron's body could very well catch up to him this season. He's looked largely indestructible throughout his career and rarely shown signs of fatigue, but he would seem primed to exit the prime of his career any time now. Fortunately, he plays for a team that appropriately devalues the regular season, and he'll see plenty of rest during the 2017-18 campaign. But without Irving and with Thomas out indefinitely with a hip injury, it's unclear who will lead the Cavaliers when James wants to take a back seat. PG Derrick Rose and SG Dwyane Wade, both once MVP-level players, joined the Cleveland backcourt this offseason, but both are now quite limited in what they can do. Wade has an unmatched chemistry with James from their time together in Cleveland, but his limited outside shooting ability doesn't make him an ideal sidekick these days, at least on paper. It will be interesting to see how the Cavs balance playing time at the two spot between him and SG J.R. Smith. PF Kevin Love, once a star in Minnesota, could see his game illuminated once again with Irving out the door. He had become an afterthought in the Irving/James offense, relegated to spotting up for three-pointers. He may now see more sets designed for him to score. Crowder represents one of the best defenders to play on the same team as James in recent years, and his ability to guard opposing forwards will take some pressure off LeBron on the defensive end.