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The Boston Celtics are ready for the next level

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The Boston Celtics rebuild is over. Now the team’s true test begins.

Boston Celtics Introduce Kyrie Irving Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

No more excuses. No more waiting for the next big trade or the other shoe to drop. The Boston Celtics are a team that can contend now.

After an offseason filled with its fair share of surprises and more than a few emotional departures, the Boston Celtics have put together a team that by almost all metrics looks better than it did last season.

Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford are a formidable Big Three of star-level talent. Backed them up are solid rotational players like Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, and Terry Rozier. Further bolstered by a bevy of young talent including high-level rookies like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics are stacked coming into this season.

No matter how you might feel about the Isaiah Thomas-Kyrie Irving trade (personally, I was devastated) Irving is younger, under contract for longer, has generally better numbers across the board, and has valuable experience from playing alongside this generation’s greatest player on a championship team.

Yet with all the moves that Boston made, the Irving trade might not even prove to be the most significant deal the team completed this offseason. Before the Irving trade even happened, some were already citing the acquisition of long-time target Gordon Hayward as the end of the Celtics rebuild.

So with all this talent flooding into Boston, the rebuild is all but over and some are considering the Celtics contenders before the season has even begun—something that hasn’t really happened since Kevin Garnett was in green. But as the Celtics’ former big three can tell you, the next level brings its own challenges.

Brad Stevens finally has a team that is truly versatile and filled with enough talent to really get things done. A coach renowned for getting the best out of his players now has some of the best players in the world to work with. But for the Celtics wunderkind coach there are no longer any caveats on his success. Stevens not only has a roster of young players seemingly tailor-made for his style of basketball, but he also has his own Butler Bulldogs protégé Gordon Hayward joining the ranks as well as Kyrie Irving, a superstar talent eager to prove himself. This is a career year for Stevens, a time to show the league what he can really do with the deck stacked in his favour.

Boston Celtics Introduce Kyrie Irving Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Danny Ainge has even more on the line than Stevens. Although Ainge hasn’t exactly gone all in, he’s certainly put most of his chips on the table at this point. After going gung-ho this offseason, for trader Danny anything short of the Celtics blowing past the rest of the Eastern Conference (including the Cavs) and making a genuine run at the Finals will likely be considered a failure.

Yet as hard as it might be to do, if you take the emotion out of everything, then Danny Ainge has made the right move every step of the way. He’s bought low and sold high, and he’s taken a team that was near the bottom of the standings a few short seasons ago and turned them into a potential powerhouse. And he’s done it all without ever having to take a step on the dreaded treadmill of mediocrity.

If it comes down to the Cavaliers vs. the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals (which seems more than possible at this point), it will certainly be a storied matchup with all the tension surrounding the recent trade window. For the Cavs, the question is whether an emotionally charged Isaiah Thomas and equally angered Jae Crowder can bring an overwhelming energy to a team that had seemed stagnant for the past season and keep Cleveland in charge of the East. For Boston, the hope will be that they’ll have the edge, but Cleveland remains the Celtics’ biggest obstacle in the East.

Boston also shouldn’t sleep on teams like Toronto or Washington, although the sheer volume of the Celtics talent pool looks to put them a level above the Eastern Conference’s middle tier. Out west, where the real powerhouses live, this new-look Celtics roster is better equipped to handle All-Star heavy teams like Golden State, the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It is often said that in life it is about the journey and not the destination. Maybe that’s why it can be so hard for many to accept where the Celtics are now, as the journey to get them there has been so compelling. It’s the story of a team trying to be better. It’s Brad Stevens’ story, a college coach who was given the NBA’s spare change and turned them into more than the sum of their parts. It’s Danny Ainge’s story of trading everything he has for a chance at something more. It’s Isaiah Thomas’ story, the story of a little guy who made the city believe again. It’s Kyrie Irving’s story, the story of a player willing to risk everything to prove that, when unleashed, he is better than the best. It’s our story, as fans, following all the dizzying highs and melancholic lows. But most of all it’s a Celtics story, the story of a team struggling and clawing and scratching and hustling and trading and fighting and trying every move possible to battle its way back into true contention.

At this stage, it’s a story that could still end in tragedy or triumph. The rebuild may be over, but the Celtics’ real journey has only just begun. The destination, however, remains the same as it’s ever been: the NBA Finals and championship glory.