Danny Ainge downplays talk that the Celtics should win the east without LeBron James

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LeBron James' decision to join the Western Conference for the first time in his career has opened the door in the east and created a great opportunity for the contending teams. 

The Boston Celtics have been installed as the favourites to win the conference next season but they'll face strong competition from the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors. 

But with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward set to return to full health and youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum developing into hugely talented young players, it's no surprise that they're seen as the team to beat. 

Primed to take over

The Celtics know they're in a great position to be successful but president Danny Ainge has played down the notion that the east is theirs to lose after LeBron's departure. 

"What do I care about the Eastern Conference? I don't really care about that. We're trying to win championships, and you still have to play LeBron," Ainge told reporters, per ESPN' Chris Forsberg.

"I think that there's a lot of good teams in the East that get undersold a little bit.

"I think Washington, and Milwaukee [is] an up-and-coming team, and Toronto was the best team in the conference last year during the regular season.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Six

"I think they're a fantastic team. So the East is going to be tough."

Boston reached the conference finals last season without Irving and Hayward but ran into LeBron and couldn't end his reign despite holding a 3-2 lead over the Cavs. 

The King's decision to leave has opened the door for the C's to make the finals for the first time since 2010. 

They have all the tools in place to not only achieve that but also win the Larry O'Brien trophy itself. 

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers

If there's one team equipped to beat the Golden State Warriors, it's surely the Celtics. 

Winning formula

In Brad Stevens, they possess one of the best coaches in the league and they have the right mix of youth and experience on their roster. 

They're also one of the best defensive teams in the league and are an efficient offensive unit. 

With multiple All-Stars, the quality is there for them to give the defending champions a run for their money if they meet in the finals. 

Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics

Much of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Kyrie and Hayward and Ainge has confirmed that they should be back playing next month. 

"Both of them sound very optimistic and sound healthy, and they're getting out on the court," Ainge said.

"They should be playing full-court basketball by the time they get back to Boston sometime in August."

Expectations are high for Boston next season and rightfully so. 

CLICK HERE to listen to Episode Two of the new GiveMeSport NBA podcast, featuring New York Times senior writer Marc Stein. Subscribe for all future episodes.

Jayson Tatum
Jaylen Brown
Gordon Hayward
Kyrie Irving
Atlantic Division
Philadelphia 76ers
Golden State Warriors
Cleveland Cavaliers
Boston Celtics
Eastern Conference
LeBron James

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