The Celtics have changed the way they do business on the court. Over the last few years, its been about culture and team—now they’ve gone all-in on talent. The new acquisitions have removed some of the charm, but it’s what needed to be done to compete for a championship. The Brad Stevens era has focused primarily on grit and smart play, and its worked—to an extent. Last season, those elements propelled the Celtics to a number one seed and into the Eastern Conference Finals, but, with just four returning starters, it’s a whole new ball game. The problem is that even with the addition of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and even if they win more regular season games than the Cavs, they still aren’t as good.

LeBron James

One of these years that sentiment will be wrong, but after seven straight years in the finals, some team in the East needs to take the conference crown from him. This Boston team may be much improved, but the trade that rocked the off-season potentially upgraded the Cavs as well.

Who did the Celtics lose?

The heart and soul of Boston last year was Isaiah Thomas. From his heroic fourth quarter scoring binges to the tragic loss of his sister just before the playoffs, he represented everything that is good about sports -- and the Celtics traded him [VIDEO] three months later.

Thomas’ size at 5-foot-9, hip injury, and impending free agency in 2018 were certainly all factors, but it was still a cold move. He’s done nothing but prove critics wrong his entire career, and even with him playing for the Celtics' chief competition (Cavs) this season, I don’t think many in Boston will ever root against him.

What Thomas brought on the offensive end, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley were to the other end of the floor. The defensive stalwarts were both key pieces and won’t easily be replaced. Also, say what you will about Kelly Olynyk, but he did play the game of his life against the Wizards to help win that series. He's also a big who can shoot threes—and that's a commodity in the league these days.

How will the infusion of talent play on the court?

With the addition of Al Horford last year, and Hayward and Kyrie this off-season, the Celtics have rebuilt their team. The Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett-led Celtics won just one championship in 2008, but they seriously challenged LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. Trading Pierce and Garnett to the Nets in 2013 was the catalyst that put the Celtics back on the path toward contention.

The assets gained from that trade and others are what attracted Horford and Hayward to sign as free agents and what laid the foundation for the trade for Kyrie.

It’s also what got them the third overall draft pick in the last two years—Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

All eyes will be on Kyrie to start the season. For better or worse, he got what he wanted. No longer is he going to have to play under LeBron’s large shadow. Maybe there is another level to Kyrie’s game, but he's never shown the capacity to lead a team. Offensively, he is a wizard with a basketball. He's also a high-level, creative finisher around the rim and an elite shooter. But physically, he hasn’t proven to have the motor to impose his will on the opponent night after night like a Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, or Allen Iverson. He takes plays off, doesn’t move the ball, and offers little on the defensive end.

For those who remember Butler’s first Final Four run, there is something nostalgic about seeing Hayward and Stevens reunite as coach and player in Boston, but a lot has changed since then. Stevens has become one of the top NBA coaches, and Hayward completely rebuilt his body and game in Utah, turning himself into an NBA All-Star. The expectation is obviously for Hayward to play well, but how will he fit with Kyrie? Hayward is a better all-around player, and, in a Brad Stevens' motion offense, should get plenty of opportunities to put up shots. Wth the game on the line, don’t bet on Kyrie giving the ball up. His mentor, after all, is Kobe Bryant.