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Column: Irving-Thomas megatrade thrusts Celtics near top of Boston sports scene

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(Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Now that’s how you get yourself back into the conversation.

After a six-year hiatus from the major Boston sports discussions, the Celtics thrust themselves back in a big way with a daring and gutsy trade Tuesday night that sent star guard Isaiah Thomas to the Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving.


Sure, there were other players and the big Nets pick involved in the trade from the Celtics' end, which will have some people fretting about overpayment. But, really, this was about a really good (but small and aging point guard with some wear and tear) point guard in Thomas, being traded for a younger, taller and better version in Irving. The other parts are window dressing.

And it’s the type of do-or-die trade where you just have to admire Danny Ainge for pushing a lot of his chips to the center of the table and saying, “It’s now or never.” Pay that man his money. (Well … until he’s wrong.)

It’s the type of deal that will sizzle in this town all the way through Tuesday, Oct. 17th. What’s the significance of that date? Oh, that just happens to be the day LeBron James, his new running mate in I.T. and the rest of the Cavs host Kyrie, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and the Celtics on TNT to kick off the season.

Giddy. Up.

The return trip to the Garden happens Jan. 3, which will likely be the week the Patriots have off during their usual playoff bye week. So the Celtics will have the spotlight completely to themselves.

Talk about stage managing.

This is huge. This is like trading Nomar Garciaparra, Joe Thornton, Richard Seymour or Logan Mankins. This is like acquiring Pedro Martinez, Kevin Garnett or Randy Moss. This is major-Boston-sports-trade-that-we’ll-all-be-talking-about-20-years-from-now big.

And the deal has the potential to be a juicy storyline for years to come, especially the upcoming season. I.T. vs. Ainge. Kyrie vs. LeBron. Dan Gilbert vs. Wyc Grousbeck. Oh wait, I got a little too excited on the last one. But, hey, why not?

Back to the Celtics. Look, we’re not trying to say that the Celtics were a minor-league team in this town. Far from it. They won 48 games two years ago, 53 last year and fell in the Eastern Conference Finals (to Kyrie and Cleveland). That’s legit, and it was a whole lot of fun watching them win four-straight against the Bulls after going down 0-2, Game 7 in the Garden against Washington, and shock the Cavs in Game 3 to give a momentary glimmer of hope.

But most of us, save for the heartiest of Celtics fans (and there are many), knew where it was all headed. Since the 2011-12 season — the final charge of the Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen that ended with two-straight conference final losses to the Heat — the Celtics have been the little rebuilding team that could. We watched them be cleaned out and bottom out (25-57) with Brad Stevens in his first year with the team in 2013-14. Then the slow climb began with Danny Ainge retooling and restocking.

But they were never truly contenders. They battled hard, obviously took to some really good coaching (we didn’t know how good, but we do now) and were a fun, try-hard team to root for.

But they weren’t going to threaten LeBron, and they certainly weren’t in the same league as the Warriors. They didn’t have a bonafide star that almost every team needs to win in today’s NBA.

Sure, Thomas was terrific and basically willed himself to become an All-Star through a tireless work ethic, but he wasn’t on the same level as LeBron, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry or the other megastars. Thomas could carry the Celtics in the regular season against those teams, but not in the postseason.

We all knew this, and we watched as Trader Danny horded his picks like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. Celtics fans never knew if Celtic Spring was going to come as it seemed like every offseason, Ainge teased, the fans dreamed, but nothing ever happened.

Until Tuesday night.

Finally, after rebuilding the team, adding nice complementary pieces like Horford and Hayward and promising youngsters like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Ainge finally brought in the star that could be the straw that stirs a championship drink.

Are the Celtics going to beat the Cavs? Maybe, maybe not, but they think they are in a better position now than they were yesterday. Will the Celtics topple the Warriors? Probably not, but they have a better chance to make the Finals, and then you have a legit chance.

And, oh yeah, Kyrie hates LeBron. More fun.

This town, in recent years, centered around three things: the Patriots, which moron was disrespecting the Patriots, and the Red Sox — probably in that order.

Nobody’s knocking off the Patriots, not with 19-0 on the table and Tom Brady looking like he’ll slay the NFL forever. And the Red Sox are on their way to the postseason, which gives us ample time to dissect all of John Farrell’s mindboggling moves and non-moves.

But the Celtics are now right back into the conversation in this town. It feels right. Familiar. The Green and White. The Garden with mega games. Everyone stopping to tune in.

The Celtics are back.

And the way Ainge has things lined up, we might not stop talking about them for a long time to come.