The NBA season is finally back, as the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.
In what should be a dramatic and physical meeting between two teams that squared off in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, there are a number of storylines that will dominate the build-up and reaction to the game.
How will Kyrie Irving perform in his first game as a Celtic after presumably getting booed by the home fans of the team he spent the first six seasons of his career with?
How will LeBron James’ interactions with Irving be after all of the offseason drama surrounding the pair?
How will Jae Crowder do in his first game as a starting power forward for Cleveland after spending the previous two and a half seasons in Boston? Will Isaiah Thomas, who will miss the game while recovering with an injury, handle the situation well from the bench? Will he acknowledge his former club and teammates?
While most of the drama surrounds the subjects in the blockbuster trade that occurred between the two teams late in the summer, there are also many storylines that each franchise has in terms of personnel. Early in the season, coaches have to make tough decisions when it comes to playing time, rotations and strategies and therefore, it can take time to get into a groove.
One of the hot topics in Cleveland right now is how JR Smith has dealt with losing his starting role to Dwyane Wade. Although the 12-time All-Star and three-time champion Wade was presumed to start after signing with the club, Smith felt misled by the organization about what their plans were with him.
Seemingly moving on from that topic, Smith set his sights on the Celtics after Monday’s practice. When asked by a reporter if he views the Celtics as a challenge this year, he responded as only JR could:
"Not really, honestly," Smith said, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. "I mean they have Ky (Kyrie Irving), but last year they had Isaiah (Thomas), Avery (Bradley). And Gordon (Hayward), I mean, give or take obviously they bring different things to the floor. Gordon is a better offensive player but Avery is the better defender, so pretty much you could say a wash there."
Smith continued, “I mean, nobody really knows. People are expecting good things from (Jayson) Tatum but he's a rookie, so I can't really go there. Al (Horford) is a pick-and-pop guy. He doesn't really roll as much. I think Jaylen (Brown) has obviously gotten better so, I think they're the same ... I wouldn't say the same team because obviously there's different people in different jerseys, but I mean, I don't really pose them as a big threat to us.”
Most NBA players would have declined to answer or kept it vague. Smith has proven to be anything but typical and hasn’t ever been afraid to speak his mind. This was not an exception.
When asked a similar question, teammate Kevin Love had a starkly-different answer.
"Boston has been a team that's continued to get better and they were there in the Eastern Conference finals last year against us,” he said. "I don't know if 'rival' is the right word, but they're right up there, if not the main competitor with we feel like us in the East and there's a few other teams in there we're going to fight with. But Boston seems to, like I mentioned keep getting better.”
In what should be an exciting game, there will certainly be some eyes on how Smith performs based on the comments that he made above.