Just when we thought the summer was over.
The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers announced on Tuesday night that they have completed a trade that will send four-time All-Star and 2016 NBA Champion Kyrie Irving to Boston Celtics in exchange for guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick. This brings an end to the uncertainty surrounding Irving who, it was reported last month, demanded to be traded away from Cleveland.
For the Celtics
This trade is a huge upgrade for the Celtics. In Irving, the Celtics have a top-5 player and the second best offensive guard in the NBA. He isn’t afraid of big moments and can be relied on to take big shots when the game is on the line. As great as Thomas was in the clutch, Irving can be counted on to get buckets when the Celtics need them. Add to that his playoff chops, and hitting one of the greatest shots in NBA history, Irving is the star that Celtics GM Danny Ainge was waiting to trade for.
Offensively, Irving will have to work his way into a fairly complex Boston system that allows guards to slash to the rim or pull up for quick threes, both of which Irving is more than proficient in. He will have to share the ball with Boston’s other star and big summer signing, Gordon Hayward. Not a big ask for someone who shared the ball with the world’s greatest player for about half his career.
Defensively, Irving will have to clean up his act. He is a below average defensive player, something that will not fly with the Boston franchise. Boston known for it’s defense, has brought on two stars who feature among the worst defensive players in the NBA. The good news for both Irving and Hayward is that Boston’s system is rooted in team defense. Also, coach Brad Stevens, who has consistently gotten players to overachieve, has the magical ability to get his team to buy into his philosophy at both ends of the floor.
It is also a bit to see disappointing the Celtics disbanded. Part of what made them fun to watch was that they were a motley crew of blue collar NBA players who were punching above their weight. Except for Al Horford, none of the Celtics in last years’ team were heralded to be stars.
Not anymore. The starting five of Irving, Jaylen Brown, Hayward, Marcus Morriss and Horford will be expected to be a title contender from Day 1. Anything short of a Finals appearance will be considered a failure.
For the Cavaliers
This trade plugs all the holes for Cleveland.
Thomas is a solid Irving replacement – a quick high-scoring guard who is comfortable playing with the ball in his hands. Thomas is a beast in the fourth quarter so the Cavaliers will not be left wanting for clutch scoring. Much of Thomas’ 28.9 ppg came from him being the sole star on the Celtics. It will be interesting to watch and see Thomas learning to play off the ball alongside LeBron James. Unlike Irving, Thomas will be happy playing second fiddle to LeBron in the quest of a spot in the Finals.
Crowder is an upgrade at the wing spot for the Cavaliers. He is a streaky scorer which is fine when you have two alpha offensive players. It is Crowder’s defense that will come in handy when the Cavaliers match-up against a contender with an alpha forward (think Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Hayward)
Zizic is a hit or miss in the trade. He has the potential to become a solid back up forward or, when needed, a starting center. In case he doesn’t pan out the way the Cavaliers would like, he can be bunched up with the Brooklyn pick to bring in another asset that would further bolster the roster.
The Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick is an interesting conundrum for the Cavaliers. While Brooklyn isn’t contending for a title anytime soon, they have made some savvy moves this summer to ensure they will be competitive in the weaker Eastern Conference. Expect them to finish ninth or tenth in the conference. The 2018 draft isn’t as deep as this years’ so Cavaliers would do well to find a way to trade it for some immediate help. Unless, of course the Nets’ suck again this year, and the Cavaliers land up with a potential star in the Draft.
For LeBron James
The all important question, though: Is this all enough to convince LeBron James to stay. My take is, no. It isn’t.
LeBron understands his body and his window of opportunity to win another Championship. As competent as this current Cavaliers roster is, he isn’t going to want to carry a franchise for much longer. Especially not when there are readymade rosters with young stars out West. (Hint: Hollywod town)
All this movement also brings the question of loyalty into the limelight. When Kevin Durant decided to leave Oklahoma City Thunder last season, he was ripped apart for not showing loyalty to a franchise that drafted him. More so because he left a title contender to join a team that was already great.
This trade is the flipside of that argument.
On the business side of things the trade made complete sense. Irving is a much younger and better player. Thomas is also up for an extension, and it is no secret that he was to get paid top dollar. A 28-year old, 5’9” guard, coming off a hip injury seeking a near-max contract isn’t something any franchise would wanna be part of.
On the emotional side of things, Thomas meant more than just a contract to the franchise. Thomas clearly played out of his mind for the Celtics. Anyone who follows the NBA closely could see that Thomas rose to become one of the most popular Celtics of all time. No mean task when you realize the Celtics also had a certain player named Larry Bird. Thomas also won hearts everywhere when he dropped 53 in the playoffs a few nights after he lost his sister in a tragic accident. In the light of all that he did and meant to the franchise, the Celtics saw him as dispensable as soon as Irving was up for grabs.
For the Warriors
The trade has definitely made for an interesting Eastern Conference Finals. Assuming the Celtics can find away to play together, they pose a legitimate threat to the Cavaliers quest for a fourth straight Finals.
The Cavaliers have clearly taken a step back. From having two playoff-tested Finals-ready stars, they now have one. Unless they fortify their team with a third star - they are rumored to be in talk with Dwyane Wade, James’ old running mate - it is going to be markedly worse if they make the Finals against the Warriors this year.
The Celtics are slightly better equipped to deal with the Golden State Warriors. Stevens has two genuine All-Stars, both of whom are unafraid of the Warriors, at his disposal now. He is still short of one star, and has to find a way to turn the current team into a respectable defensive unit. Difficult, but not impossible.
None of this, however, will matter against a fully healthy and motivated Warriors team.