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Kyrie Irving wanted to escape LeBron James' shadow with the Cleveland Cavaliers (we think). Whether he succeeded by joining the Boston Celtics is debatable. Gordon Hayward and Al Horford are the lower-key stars, but they are stars, and Irving isn't the best player on the team when the roster's at full strength.

Except, the Celtics aren't close to full strength. Not anymore. Hayward, their actual best player, suffered a dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia midway through the first quarter of their opening-night loss to the Cavaliers. His season, in all likelihood, is over.

Boston will now lean on Irving more than it planned to before. Team president Danny Ainge forked over Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-rounder and a second-round pick to acquire him, but he was never supposed to be an immediate lifeline. 

Landing him meant more to the bigger picture. The Celtics turned over almost two-thirds of last year's roster after winning 53 games and securing the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed. Their first and foremost concern is defining the championship field two, three or four years down the road, when windows for the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are shrinking or have closed altogether. Competing now is a convenient bonus.

Losing Hayward charges a 25-year-old Irving with the care of both blueprints. This isn't spending a few minutes here and there without LeBron James. This will be him, seizing the reins of an offense and team, without resistance or conditions.

Career-high volume seems inevitable. In the 570 minutes he logged without James for 2016-17, Irving posted a usage rate of 41.7—identical to Russell Westbrook's own record-shattering mark. That won't hold for an entire season, but Irving should close 2017-18 in the 30s, even as he shares ball-handling responsibilities with Horford, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and, perhaps, Jaylen Brown.

Use last year as a baseline, and this doesn't come as good news. The Cavaliers scored like a bottom-five offense when Irving operated independent of the four-time MVP while getting outscored by eight points per 100 possessions.

Misleading hubhub is speckled throughout those returns. No Irving-led lineup without James totaled more than 46 minutes. Since 2014-15, when the King first returned, not one of Cleveland's Irving-chiefed combinations saw more than 78 minutes. He deserves the opportunity to show these numbers are nothing more than circumstantial noise—and he's about to get it.

Source : http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2739339-one-player-on-every-nba-team-under-the-most-pressure-this-season

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