Trades like the one that occurred Tuesday night don’t come around very often. In 2012, it was James Harden, a future superstar in everyone’s book besides Oklahoma City’s who was moved. Prior to that, it was Carmelo Anthony. It’s very rare that a top 15 player is ever moved. Usually the circumstances surrounding it are pretty stupid. In this case, they were pretty reasonable.
My theory on Kyrie’s trade request: He was secretly tired of being in LeBron’s shadow for some time and kept it quiet. Then he heard about June’s nixed mega-trade (Who’s involved parts are still being questioned) and thought “I don’t wanna be here and they see me as expendable. Get me out.” And so Cleveland went to work on a deal.
As for why the relationship between Kyrie and LeBron got so bad? Maybe there was some behind the scenes stuff? Maybe the on-court relationship was a really tough chemistry thing for the two to work out? Maybe LeBron took offense to the fact that Kyrie didn’t want to play with him? Maybe LeBron’s advocation for a Paul George trade wasn’t supported by Kyrie because of Kyrie and PG sharing the same ex-girlfriend (Callie Rivers)? That’s my favorite theory. What if she dumped one for the other? At the same time, she’s now dating Seth Curry, so theoretically they could both talk crap about her.
Anyways, Kyrie’s trade to Boston completely realigns the Eastern Conference. Most people believe Cleveland got the better end of it, but I have my doubts.
Celtics get: Kyrie Irving
Cavaliers get: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, 2018 Nets 1st round pick
Ever since the reports of Cleveland being active in trade talks this Summer have been out, I had been saying that the Cavs had to upgrade their defensive versatility. LeBron couldn’t handle Kevin Durant in the Finals, and Cleveland’s poor team defense was the nail in the coffin. If I were Cleveland, I would have tried to flip Kevin Love into two 3-and-D guys.
That however was before Kyrie’s trade request. Even though the Cavs were gonna send one of the league’s best 15 players out the door, it also provided them a great opportunity improve on the other side of the floor.
The Cavaliers failed to do that.
Value wise the trade wasn’t as bad AS I make it out to be. Isaiah Thomas is one of the 20 best players in the league, but couldn’t have been dealt straight up due to age and his upcoming contract. Jae Crowder is a decent 3-and-D player. Ante Zizic has some promise, and the Nets’ pick is a great asset.
But how exactly did Cleveland close the gap on Golden State? They somehow downgraded defensively from Irving to Thomas. Jae Crowder missed a ton of shots and was not the defensive player he has been in the past during the playoffs; he’s not locking down KD or Klay Thompson. And the Cavs still have Kevin Love, who’s a great player in the right system, but is being used as a wing who can’t defend the likes of a Draymond Green-type player.
The Nets pick could find them that versatile athletic wing, but the 2018 draft surely isn’t the 2017 one (2017 was 15 players deep and will go down as one of the best ever). Plus, Brooklyn actually has some competent basketball players now. That pick could very well end up in the 4-5-6-7 range rather than in the top three.
Even if the Cavs do get that guy next June, LeBron James will be a free agent three weeks afterward. The whole city of Cleveland is gonna be pissing their pants wondering if he’ll leave again.
The demand for the Nets pick revealed this to me: That Dan Gilbert actually and finally realizes that LeBron might be a Laker a year from now. This wasn’t evident in June, when David Griffin was the still the GM, and wanted to hold on to Kyrie instead sending him elsewhere because of the threat of LeBron leaving in the Summer of 2018. Had Gilbert realized this in June, maybe Kyrie isn’t as upset, and maybe things smooth over with LeBron and he’s still a Cavalier.
The Nets pick could yield the Cavs a future building block, but it still may not be as lucrative as we think. Plus, it was only Boston’s 3rd strongest asset.
I thought the Celtics were extremely smart about the way they constructed this deal. Sure, letting go of Isaiah Thomas is kinda crappy. They brought him in, gave him the keys, instilled his confidence and he blossomed. Then eight months after the blossom they let him go. But sports is a business, and the math/money behind it all made too much sense.
There was no way Boston was going to pay him a max contract next Summer. $120 million-something is a huge gamble for a 5’9, 29 year old point guard who has a hip problem. And when you have a choice to make between two better assets (In this case, Markelle Fultz and Kyrie Irving), the decision to trade Thomas was an easy one.
Shipping out Isaiah saves them money (Irving’s contract is considerbly less), gives them more stability (Kyrie’s up in the Summer of 2019 and will probably re-sign), instills youth (Kyrie is still 26!!) and overall just makes them better. Kyrie was a baller in the playoffs. As much of a efficiency-freak as I am, you still need someone who can hit a big shot off an iso when it really matters. Kyrie is that dude. I mean, he kinda hit a NBA Finals-winning shot in 2016.
Getting rid of Jae Crowder frees up minutes for Jaylen Brown-who was really good late in the postseason defensively- Jayson Tatum, who I’m still a little skeptical on but is another scorer who’s effective on-or-off the ball, and even the rookie Semi Ojeleye, who’s an athletic wing out of SMU.
Zizic was a draft-and-stash guy of Boston’s from a year ago. He seems very raw, but he’s only 20, so he’s got time to improve. It was unlikely for him to see major minutes this season with Marcus Morris, Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Guerschon Yabusele already in the front court.
The pick is the real bigey, but even it has its pros to being traded. It’s the least valuable of all of the Nets’ picks, because even though it’s worth more than Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, it comes in the worst of the three drafts. And if this trade went through without its inclusion, what type of player could Boston possibly pick? What would be their need?
That takes us into how Kyrie fits in with Boston. The Celtics are looking at a starting lineup of Irving-Gordon Hayward-Brown-Morris-Horford; Brown starting over Tatum because he’s earned a minutes upgrade and is much better on the defensive end then Tatum.
Part of Irving’s trade demand had to do with him wanting to expand his playmaking abilities. I’ve always thought of Irving as a two-guard; a scorer first and a passer second. But if Irving is willing to work on his passing, my concern about him dominating the ball is lowered. It doesn’t sound like a Russell Westbrook situation.
The main thing Boston needed was shot-makers: Dudes who you can trust to get you a bucket. The Celtics added two of them this offseason in Irving and Hayward, and have a 3rd off the bench in Tatum.
With this kind of star-power, the Celtics have a new array of plays they could run, and with Brad Stevens on the sideline, that’s a very scary thought for opposing teams. Stevens could have Irving drive and dish, drive and score, or find a slasher. Hayward is a great catch and shoot scorer and also has crafty ball-handling ability. He can also be run off screens. There might even be a play where Irving comes off a screen. It’s not like the ball isn’t going in.
Jaylen Brown isn’t there offensively yet, but his scoring mostly came off of kick-out threes last season. With Irving being one of the best ever at getting to the rim, Brown will be launching.
Defensively the Celtics didn’t get too much better. Irving is only better than Thomas due to his height; you don’t have to completely hide him. But the Celtics might be so good that it doesn’t really matter, and even when matchups do get harder, Irving’s offense could make up for it.
As for how this trade affects Cleveland, it doesn’t change too much. You have to wonder how any point guard will fit with LeBron, but Isaiah is much better off-the-ball than Kyrie; the Celtics ran him off screens when Marcus Smart was in the game last season. Thomas is also extremely underrated when it comes to getting to the rim, so the change of style at the point guard spot won’t be much different. Defensively though, Isaiah’s gonna have to be hidden, and that will be a major problem if the Warriors and Cavaliers meet in the Finals once again.
Jae Crowder probably finds himself coming off the bench unless Love is flipped for wings before the season; you can’t sit $85 million+ men. Depending on the matchup he’ll be useful, but he’s not a crunch time defender, and is probably hid in the corner on offense.
Zizic will hopefully be a nice backup center for Tristan Thompson, and the pressure during the regular season won’t be too high on him since the Cavaliers are still so talented.
Cleveland got the return they wanted, so congratulations to them. But in trading Kyrie to Boston not only did they not close the gap on Golden State, but they helped the Celtics become more equipped to beat them.
Even if Boston had given up more, say Jaylen Brown or Terry Rozier, the Cavs are still trading away Kyrie, who has the capability to be the best player on a championship team. That’s not the case for every team; Phoenix probably isn’t a title contender with Irving, but with a roster already as loaded as Boston’s, the Cavs practically said “Here’s a huge increase in your NBA Finals odds!”
That, coupled with Cleveland not getting enough in the first place, is why I loved this trade for Boston. Sure LeBron is gonna be pissed off as ever, but their path to the Finals only presumably runs through him for one more year. After that, Boston’s reign in the East is foreseeable for quite some time.