VIDEO: Contrary to popular belief, Celtics vastly improved with addition ... and subtraction


By Nick Ashooh

Originally posted on

Whenever a blockbuster trade goes down in the NBA, the first reaction always seems to center around who "won" the deal.

After the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets 2018 first-round pick, that's all NBA Twitter wanted to talk about.

Plenty seemed to feel the Celtics got worse this offseason, especially defensively, and looked at it as a regression from last season's Eastern Conference Finals team.

Others were confused.

Some just wanted an excuse to make another Earth joke.

LeBron James took the high road at least.


There's way too much overthinking with this trade. It's simple, the Celtics are a better team than they were last year. 

Just on talent alone, any reasonable person would see that a lineup of Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Al Horford, and either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown has a higher ceiling than Thomas, Horford, Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Kelly Olynyk.

Where did the "you need multiple stars to win in the NBA" narrative get lost in all this? When was it forgotten that the Celtics lacked more than one punch when it came to closing out games?

It was forgotten when the identity of the Celtics looked like it was changing. Yes, losing Bradley means a great perimeter defender is missing, and yes Olynyk was a hard-nosed guy that helped shape that defensive image as well. But this team can still keep that identity while adding more talent on the offensive side.

Believe it or not, the Celtics have players to do both.

Defensive Win Shares is something used to estimate the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense. The league leaders in Defensive Win Shares from 2016-17 were Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard. Some of the best defenders in the game today.

It has credibility. 

Bradley ranked 107th on this list. Olynyk came in at No. 120. 

Horford was 45th last year, Marcus Smart was 49th. They're still in Boston.

Even better news for the Celtics, newcomers Marcus Morris and Gordon Hayward were higher than Bradley and Olynyk too. Morris was 76th, and Hayward was all the way up at 20th. Hayward also came from a Utah team that was the best in the NBA in points allowed (96.8). The Celtics ranked 15th.

Smart will likely be counted on to defend bigger players this year, but compared to Bradley (6-2, 180), Smart is bigger (6-4, 220), with great on-ball defensive skills of his own.

So what's this all mean?

The Celtics lost some great defenders — yes — but added more players that can contribute on both sides of the ball, something they lacked on a consistent basis last season.

No, Irving didn't show great effort on defense, but Thomas, quite simply, is too small to defend anyone and had to be hidden on defense anyway. You can argue Irving is still a slight upgrade there, as crazy as that might sound.

Sometimes defense is about effort, and if there's anyone that can get maximum effort and results from his players, it's Brad Stevens. Any coach that can get mid-major Butler University within a win of a NCAA National Championship in back-to-back seasons, and take a Celtics team full of underappreciated players to the Eastern Conference Finals, shows he can make anyone better that wants to be. 

Now, Boston has the talent to count on multiple players late in close games. Last year, it was only Thomas.

The Celtics also have a chance to keep this core together for the long-term. Danny Ainge doesn't make this trade if he's not convinced Irving has a desire to stay past the next two years on his deal.

At the other end of the trade spectrum, the Cavaliers could be in total rebuild mode after next year.

LeBron James can leave, Thomas will want a max deal, and the team is already in luxury tax hell from all of the deals they've done to keep LeBron happy. Oh, and they just traded their second-best player to their rival. Not to mention, there's a good chance Thomas never puts up the numbers he did this past year again.

The Celtics sold high.

Sure, this new Celtics team still has to gel, which is something that's certainly beneficial for the Wizards, a team that has chemistry and continuity from years of playing together. But in today's NBA, you have to have stars, plain and simple.

Right now, the Kyrie Irving trade can only be judged by what we see in front of us, and what we see is a better team in Boston. 

It also means, all four nationally televised games between the Wizards and Celtics just got even more competitive too. 

Nick Ashooh