Celtics

Don’t be afraid to get LeBron James into Celtic green

I understand Celtics fans who love the team as is, but...

LeBron James smiles during a news conference following Game 4.

As has been the case pretty much since the century turned from 20 to 21, Boston sports fans are basking in an abundance of riches.

The forever-contending Patriots have some intriguing new faces and a bizarre new level of drama, and training camp doesn’t even begin until the end of July.

The Red Sox are on a 108-win pace, have just 22 losses as they chug toward mid-June, and yet still are likely to find themselves in the closest thing baseball offers to an old-fashioned pennant race come September.

The Bruins, an ideal balance of youth and experience, for a time appeared to be a favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup this season. Instead, it is the Washington Capitals who are the champs, with Alex Ovechkin apparently intent on shattering Brad Marchand’s endurance record for nonstop post-victory partying.

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For all of the compelling current and potential plot lines with Boston’s four highest-profile sports teams, I must admit this:

I’m still going through severe Celtics withdrawal. I don’t think it’s going to end soon, either, and I don’t think I want it to.

I doubt I am alone in this. The 2017-18 Celtics, who won 55 games in the regular season and lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals, was the most likable edition in the franchise’s history among teams that did not collect the confetti/parade/banner jackpot in the end.

I’ll acknowledge that we said the same thing about the 2016-17 Celtics, who won 53 games and lost to the Cavaliers in five games in the conference finals.

But this was different. That Celtics team two years ago was beyond admirable, with Isaiah Thomas pulling off countless fourth-quarter feats to win fans’ hearts and a whole lot of basketball games.

But that roster was too unconventional and limited in pure talent to become a true contender, which is why only four players from it returned this past year.

The 2017-18 Celtics won two more games in the regular season and two more as well in the conference finals from the previous year. Do not be mistaken by the marginal gains. This was not a small step. It was a leap followed by a bound.

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The Celtics are true contenders now, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown emerging, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving returning from injury, and Al Horford gluing it all together.

I can’t wait to see how it works, how the roster jells, whether they will look as good on the parquet as they are on the screen in front of me.

The NBA, from the distinctive, conscientious, and generally likable superstars on the court to the humor (NBA Twitter) and ridiculousness (it’s probably awkward at the Colangelo homestead right now), is in a great place right now. The NBA is a joy even when the games temporarily cease. It is the best league, and I’ll let you argue about the runner-up.

What it is missing, as evidenced by the NBA Finals outcome, is a genuine challenger or two to the Golden State Warriors. To call the Finals anticlimactic — post-bonehead J.R. Smith decision in Game 1, anyway — is to undersell how suspense-free they were.

The Warriors, once extremely likable, now too familiar in their dominance to be beloved (how many quirky mannerisms does Steph Curry need, anyway?), nearly got taken down by the Rockets. But Chris Paul’s hamstring betrayed him, and the Warriors could have planned their entire parade route by the time Game 3 was over.

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They could be working on four straight titles now if the Cavs of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving hadn’t turned their record 73-win season into the same kind of extraordinary-achievement-turned-what-if as the Patriots’ 18-1 season in 2007.

You know where I’m going with this: to the LeBron rumors, and the kind of intrigue that gets an NBA fan through the offseason.

Let’s make this clear right away: If LeBron decides he wants to play for the Celtics, it is doable without gutting the current roster, and it’s something Celtics fans should very much want.

Yes, it would be ruthless to trade Hayward, who given his $30-plus million salary would have to go in a sign-and-trade for James. I’m not sure Brad Stevens would be willing to go that far given their history.

I’d bet Danny Ainge would do it without a hint of remorse or regret. He traded Thomas after he played through a serious injury during the playoffs while also trying to cope with his sister’s death.

I suspect Danny would trade Austin Ainge if he was sure he was getting a better basketball mind in return. He’s proof that being a decent person and a ruthless executive aren’t mutually exclusive.

There are other more likely destinations for James. The Rockets may make the most sense basketball-wise, and he could unite in Houston with Paul, his fellow 2003 McDonald’s All-American and banana boat buddy. Joining the Lakers would accelerate his Hollywood aspirations.

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But he has seen the Celtics up close over a long series. He knows how competitive and relentless they were, even shorthanded. He knows how sharp Stevens is, how much promise Tatum holds, how Irving can deliver in the biggest moments in ways his current teammates could not.

LeBron is a basketball genius, and you don’t have to be a genius to recognize how the Celtics offer the best present/future combo of any team in the league right now. The reports that he’ll at least meet with the Celtics should not be a surprise. The surprise would be if he didn’t recognize what they already have, and what they could be with him.

I understand Celtics fans who love the team as is, who are used to LeBron as the villain and don’t want to join forces with him now that he may soon be conquerable.

But you know this: Ainge is bold, and he doesn’t do status quo.

The 2017-18 Celtics were as enjoyable as a non-champion can be. I miss watching them still, and will for a while. Bring me the new season already. But the suspense of watching Ainge run his transition game from one season to the next should be a satisfying consolation prize while we wait.