INDEPENDENCE, OHIO - J.R. Smith has never been one to bite his tongue.
So perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that when asked if the Boston Celtics now present a greater challenge than they did a year ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard nonchalantly dismissed the improvements made by the Cavs' opening night opponent.
“Not really," Smith said. "[They] don’t really pose that as a big threat to us.”
Smith's assessment, however, wasn't without rationale.
While the Celtics seemingly increased their star power over the offseason, adding All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Boston also lost several key contributors from the team that earned the Eastern Conference's best record a season ago. In addition to sending All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas and forward Jae Crowder to Cleveland in exchange for Irving, the Celtics traded guard Avery Bradley, who is considered one of the NBA's top perimeter defenders, to the Detroit Pistons.
Add it all up and Smith sees a team full of new faces, but not necessarily a more dangerous opponent than the one the Cavs beat in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
"Yeah, they have [Kyrie] but last year, they had Isaiah," Smith said. "Avery and Gordon, obviously, they bring different things to the floor. Gordon’s a better offensive player, but obviously Avery’s a better defender. Pretty much a wash there. I think they’re the same. I won’t say the same team because of different people in different jerseys."
Smith will get his first in-person look at the revamped Celtics on Tuesday when the Cavs host Boston in the season opener for both teams. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET.
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