The craziest NBA offseason in decades has seen its sixth and seventh all-stars switch uniforms. The Cleveland Cavaliers have traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets First Round pick.
Even within this seismic summer, there has not been an earth-shaking move quite like this one. The East’s top two teams have altered the course of their respective franchises, and there will be significant vibrations around the league for years to come.
Here are five quick thoughts, even though I have about 500.
1. The Cavs have done the unthinkable
Given LeBron James’ looming free agency, Irving’s trade request put the Cavs in a terrible predicament. They had to simultaneously remain good enough to convince James to stay, while also preparing for his perhaps inevitable departure. This seemingly-impossible task had many anticipating the team awkwardly entering the season intact.
Instead, miraculously, they got everything they wanted. Thomas is the immediate Irving approximate, while the Brooklyn pick is the blue-chip asset. Cavs GM Koby Altman had very little leverage, even less than is normal when trading a star. Yet he came away with the best return we’ve seen since Denver fleeced New York in the Carmelo Anthony deal.
2. Oh, yeah, and they got that other thing they’ve been looking for forever
Even though Thomas and the Brooklyn pick was already a better package than Eric Bledsoe and Josh Jackson (or anything else Cleveland was going to get), Altman somehow squeezed Crowder into the framework.
The Cavs have been looking—or should have been looking—for versatile 3-and-D wings since James’ return. Now they have one, and are better equipped to beat Golden State than ever before.
Forget Thomas’ defensive ineptitude. Irving was routinely smoked by Curry in their first proper Finals matchup, and the addition of Crowder more than offsets the marginal downgrade at point guard. He does so, ostensibly, by replacing Kevin Love in the closing lineup.
Instead of two awful defenders, the Cavs now have one really awful one. Of course, playing Love and Thomas together will be completely untenable. W leads to the next point.
3. Love more tradable than ever
A year ago, the notion that Love would outlast Irving on the Cavs was preposterous. Now it has happened, though perhaps only technically. Love’s fit next to James has never been ideal, nor has his play been inspiring against Golden State. The Cavs’ lack of better forward options was all that kept him around.
With Crowder aboard, there are no more holds. Love is no longer a member of the Cavs’ best five-man lineup, and certainly can net them more as a trade chip than as a sixth man.
Whether he is moved for another future asset or attached to the Brooklyn pick to bring in another star, a follow-up trade makes too much sense not to happen.
4. What is the real difference between Kyrie and Isaiah?
I am not actually going to answer this right now. It is too big a question for a “five quick thoughts” column, and something I want to delve deeper into in the near future. It is also something that we will find out rather decisively this coming season, and what a rare treat that is in the context and variable-laden NBA.
For now, I’ll just say this: Is it possible for Irving to significantly outdo what Thomas did in Boston last season? He averaged 28.9 points on 62.5 percent true shooting. And if Thomas was that efficient as the only real threat on his team, is it possible for him to not become more efficient playing next to the best player in basketball?
Thomas’ age, track record and contract situation all make the gap in value more significant. But the gap in current ability? It might be non-existent.
5. So let me get this straight…
I’ll give Danny Ainge the benefit of the doubt on two major fronts:
- That Kevin Pritchard is a lunatic and truly refused to trade Paul George to a conference foe.
- That Gordon Hayward did not want to play with Jimmy Butler.
Okay, where was I…Oh yeah: What the hell is Danny Ainge doing?
Three months ago, the Celtics were a conference finalist and a draft-lottery winner. In the time since, they have turned Markelle Fultz, Thomas, Crowder, Zizic and the unprotected 2018 Brooklyn pick into Irving, Jayson Tatum and the oddly-protected Lakers/Kings pick. Forget speculation on what other superstars Ainge could or could not have lured; he would have been better off doing nothing.
This seems to represent a change in Ainge. No longer wedded to assets or value, Ainge has fallen in love with players. Namely, Irving and Tatum.
If Irving blossoms away from James and becomes a true superstar while Tatum proves to be a superior player to Fultz, Ainge will be vindicated.
If anything less than those things happen, the Celtics will come away losers in a summer that saw them add a top-three pick and two all-stars.