CLEVELAND – It’s pretty apparent in Northeast Ohio that the Cavaliers are taking a wait-and-see approach on these revamped Celtics.
Firstly, the Cavaliers have had little time to focus on the Celtics after the Kyrie Irving trade because they’ve have had to integrate many new players themselves.
Cleveland has a bunch of new personalities, including Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, who participated in a 3-point shooting contest with LeBron James and former Celtic Jeff Green after practice
Derrick Rose will start at point guard Tuesday for the Cavs. Dwyane Wade will be the shooting guard. The Cavaliers reformed themselves by adding some superstars from yesteryear, hoping they can manufacture another NBA Finals contender.
Like the Celtics, the Cavaliers are uncertain how they will fare at the beginning of this journey. James has missed some time with a sprained ankle and is uncertain for Tuesday, although coach Tyronn Lue said he is planning for the four-time MVP to play.
J.R. Smith has been relegated to the bench. So has Tristan Thompson as Crowder has moved into the starting lineup and Kevin Love has moved to center. Tuesday’s matchup will be a battle of teams that might know more about each other than they do themselves.
“We have a lot of talent, a lot of versatility, a lot of guys that can do multiple things, I don’t know how long it’s going to take to jell but I hope it’s pretty quick,” Lue said. “We have some cerebral guys and they know how to play the game, so I don’t think it’s going to take as long as people think.”
Lue will take the season opener to examine how the Celtics look with Irving, Gordon Hayward, and nine other new players. What’s unique about the continuation of this rivalry is that each team made significant changes for different purposes. The Celtics retooled to beat the Cavaliers and the Cavaliers retooled to compete with the Warriors.
So until the Celtics consistently beat Cleveland, the Cavaliers will consider them a little brother, still undaunted by their attempts to dethrone them.
“Not really,” was Smith’s response when asked if the Celtics posed a greater challenge this season. “I mean honestly. They have [Kyrie] but last year they had Isaiah. Avery [Bradley] and Gordon, they obviously bring different things to the floor. Gordon’s obviously a better offensive player but obviously Avery’s a better defender, so pretty much a wash there.
“People are expecting good things from [Jayson] Tatum but he’s a rookie and I won’t go there with him. Al [Horford] is going to be Al, pick-and-pop guy, doesn’t really roll as much. Jaylen [Brown] has obviously gotten better. I don’t think they really pose a big threat to us.”
The Cavaliers were stung by Irving’s trade request and new general manager Koby Altman had to replenish an aging roster without ample salary cap space. So he signed Rose to a minimum deal and added Wade after he was bought out by the Chicago Bulls.
Green also was added on a below-market deal and Crowder is the overlooked piece in the Thomas-Irving trade. The consensus in Cleveland is the Cavaliers relented a bit after they stunned the Warriors and won their first NBA championship.
Last June’s Finals were a humiliating reminder that the current roster wasn’t equipped to win when James isn’t at his absolute most dominant. The reinforcements all have personal agendas.
Rose wants to prove he’s still capable of being an elite player; Wade wants to make up for a lost season in Chicago as he approaches his 36th birthday; Crowder wants to show the Celtics why they should have considered him a cornerstone instead of a throw-in, and Green wants to show he can be a contributor on a winning team.
“Last year, we were in — a lot of people like to use ‘Honeymoon Stage,’ ” Smith said. “Pretty much gloating and wasn’t taking it as serious but now we’re back hungry. We’ve got a bunch of new guys who want to be successful, want to win and from the looks of things, things are definitely different.”
Rose, who has played in 41 playoff games in eight NBA seasons with no Finals appearances, said he plans to relish this opportunity to play for a title contender.
“This is the first time I’ve been in this position,” he said. “This will be the first time I’ve ever played this long in a season where we hopefully will play into June, so this will be a learning experience for me.
“We all know it’s going to be a process. It’s going to take time. We have to learn each other’s tendencies. It’s all about just getting that time, getting that rhythm. I haven’t had the luxury of being on a team like that.”
Said Lue: “The guys that we have here, D Rose is a breath of fresh air. No nonsense guy, comes in and gets his work [done], doesn’t do a lot of talking.
“The same way with Crowder. The same way with Jeff Green. These guys understand, if you want to win, you have to sacrifice. These guys get it.”