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Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown was disappointed to see LeBron James’ decision to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Speaking to reporters, Brown explained that he hoped the Celtics would end James’ reign in the Eastern Conference, rather than see the four-time MVP leave and make the conference less competitive, per’s Tom Westerholm:

“To be honest, I wanted him to stay. I was kind of mad, I wanted to be the team to go through him. I feel like we could have had it last year, but we fell a little bit short. But I applaud someone doing what’s best for him. He did what’s best for him in that situation. I wanted him to stay in the East. People say, I don’t like when people say ‘Now that LeBron’s gone, y’all are the favorite.’ That irks me. A lot of us, we feel the same, because we feel that whether he was there or wasn’t there, we was coming out.” 

Brown’s sentiment is understandable.

Throughout NBA history, players and teams often had one predominant foil they had to overcome before they achieved greatness.

For Michael Jordan, it was the Bad Boys-era Detroit Pistons. Likewise, James helped bring an end to Detroit’s run atop the East in the mid-2000s to cement his dominance. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson had a legendary rivalry in the 1980s as the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers fought for NBA supremacy.

Without James in the East, the Celtics will be the clear favorites to win the conference title when the 2018-19 season tips off. They were within a game of eliminating the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they were without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

The East won’t be a cakewalk for Boston. The Indiana Pacers are on the rise. The Milwaukee Bucks should be much improved with Mike Budenholzer on the sideline. The Philadelphia 76ers were unable to land James, but they’re not going anywhere, either.

Still, James’ departure unquestionably hurts the perception of the conference, and critics will be quick to downplay the achievements of whichever team reaches the NBA Finals.

For Brown and the Celtics specifically, James’ absence denies them the opportunity for a symbolic changing of the guard in the East.

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