How the Celtics & Lakers rivalry was accidentally reignited

The Boston Celtics' and Los Angeles Lakers' rebuilds were both accelerated by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were only trying to save their own skin.

I can't believe my eyes. The Celtics are at the peak of the greatest rebuild in NBA history just in time for the Lakers to sign the (second) greatest player of all time. All of this was fueled by the Cleveland Cavaliers who were only trying to appease LeBron. There are so many angles as to why this is so unbelievable that I don't know where to start. 

The Kyrie Irving trade

We may never get to the bottom of exactly how the Irving trade affected Cleveland's chances of keeping LeBron. We may never agree on if they really had to trade Irving to begin with. Supposedly, there was a deal in place to bring Paul George and Eric Bledsoe to Cleveland that would've slipped Irving over to the Phoenix Suns. It was said that the deal has LeBron's blessing as an adequate return for Irving, but it never came to fruition as Dan Gilbert fired David Griffin before the deal could go through. Griffin's replacement, Koby Altman, traded Irving to Boston soon after for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the last unprotected Brooklyn pick in Boston's war chest, which became Colin Sexton. (Cleveland later extorted a second-round pick out of Boston as compensation for IT's hip injury.) It goes without saying this deal has been overwhelmingly favorable for Boston. It also may have started, or at least continued, the chain reaction that ultimately led to LeBron's departure. 

The aftermath

Jae Crowder was suffering from at least one of the two following problems with the Cavaliers: 1) He didn't fit in with Cleveland. 2) He didn't want to be there. At all. Judging by his contributions to the Utah Jazz, I'd say it was a pinch of the former and a whole lot of the latter. 

Isaiah Thomas' hip was never quite right. He didn't play until January, and didn't make the Cavaliers better when he did. When the locker room drama hit its peak, it was rumored that the divide was between the newcomers (namely Thomas and Crowder) and the old guard (most of the returning Cavaliers). We'll never get all the details, but we do have this: 

And I'd say that's all we need. 

The Brooklyn pick was a wild card. Should they have tried to trade it early in the season to acquire a piece to put next to LeBron? Should they keep it and draft based on need in case LeBron walks in the summer? (Spoilers: this is the one that happened) The Cavaliers had put themselves in an impossible situation, as every outcome pointed to losing the Finals and losing their star player. 

Ante Zizic barely saw the floor in his rookie season. 

The after-aftermath (2018 trade deadline)

Now, the Lakers come into the equation. Cleveland had to punt on all their preseason acquisitions, as they were either physically incapable of playing defense, lost all interest in it, or both. The Cavaliers were in peak mid-season form, and if you've watched Cleveland for the past couple years, you'd know that's not a good thing. If you missed it, here's a quick summary: Nobody played any defense for about a month except for Kyle Korver. That's it. 

Dwyane Wade was sent back to Miami for a future second-round pick. His two 25+ point games in the first round of the playoffs are more such games than any of LeBron's teammates posted in the entire playoffs. 

Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and Cleveland's own 2018 pick were sent to the Lakers for Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. This cleared up some of the bad contract situations for the Lakers which allowed them to make a run at... LeBron James. It was a win-now move that brought Cleveland about as far as they were expected to go anyway. The fact that it was Cleveland that facilitated the Lakers' moves to be able to land LeBron... it's almost unthinkable.

Don't forget that Boston also helped facilitate LeBron returning to Cleveland when they took on Marcus Thornton's salary. And don't forget that Marcus Thornton and a first-rounder became... Isaiah Thomas. Talk about full circle. 

The Brooklyn pick landed at eighth and Cleveland picked Colin Sexton, a swift but small point guard out of Alabama. Now, I could have told you long before the season started that Brooklyn wouldn't out-tank enough teams to land back in the top three in the draft again, because Brooklyn wasn't trying to tank! Yet, that pick was the key piece (not Isaiah Thomas or Jae Crowder) to get Irving to Boston. It's near impossible to get equal value in return for a star player. It's also pretty hard to strike out so hard on getting something in return. 

And now...

We cross our fingers. I know it's blasphemy, but I'm hoping for a Celtics/Lakers matchup in the Finals in the near future, which means I'm rooting for the Lakers to succeed, to an extent. We never got the Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James matchup we deserved, but Kyrie vs. LeBron would make up for it, right? I have some doubts that the Lakers will come out of the West as currently constructed and even more doubts that Magic Johnson actually has a plan to surround LeBron with the appropriate talent. The Celtics are ready to claim the East. It's all very surreal. It's just so weird how it came to be - two superpower franchises ravaging the Cavaliers for everything they own. I almost feel bad. 

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