After a brief hiccup, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics, granting his request for a new team.
When LeBron left Cleveland in 2010, the Cavs went into the tank. Their record went from 61–21 to 19–63. Duke’s Kyrie Irving was the savior on the horizon. The Cavaliers drafted him #1 in the 2011 draft, and while he scored 20 a game, he couldn’t lead them to more than 33 wins over the next 3 years. Once LeBron returned, Kyrie went from the face of the franchise to The King’s Sidekick. They went to 3 Finals together, winning one. Kyrie even hit the shot that won that title! Still, after that run, Kyrie decided he wanted out.
Cleveland got back Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 1st round pick and – after a delay following Thomas’ physical – the Miami Heat’s 2020 2nd round pick.
Isaiah Thomas essentially replaces Kyrie. They’re both point guards. Thomas scored 29 points a game last season, good for 3rd in the league. Kyrie was 11th at 25 points a game. Thomas is 28 years old, Kyrie is 25. Thomas is also coming off a hip injury, and due for a big contract after this season while Irving is under contract for at least 2 more seasons. Isaiah is only 5'9", compared to the 6'3" Kyrie Irving. Neither are great defenders, but those 6 inches make some difference. So while Thomas was a better scorer last year, age, height, injury and contract status make Irving the more valuable trade asset.
Jae Crowder is a prototypical 3-and-D wing. It’s a valuable archetype, and he will help Cleveland match up better with the Golden State Warriors. With Isaiah, LeBron and Kevin Love around, Crowder can play to his strengths. Last year’s Celtics were a more limited offensive team, and he sometimes took on too much on that end, hurting the rest of his game. He’s also on a very team-friendly contract all the way through 2020. He and LeBron will spend a lot of time covering for Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas on defense.
Center Ante Zizic is a 20-year-old prospect who has yet to play in the NBA. The Celtics drafted him 23rd overall in the 2016 draft, and he could be a good player down the road. He averaged 12 and 7 in the Adriatic League last year. Other NBA players to come out of that league are Nikola Pekovic, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic.
The most valuable long-term piece is the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick. The Celtics had the Nets’ 2017 pick, and that ended up being the first overall pick. So how bad are the Nets going to be in 2017–18? Still pretty bad. They lost Brook Lopez, their best player. They did add D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll, but none of those guys are the type of difference-making stars the Nets need to become a playoff team. This should be a top-10 pick at worst. The Cavaliers may flip this for more immediate help to try and win a title and/or retain LeBron James.
The Heat’s 2020 2nd-round pick was added to the deal after Isaiah Thomas was examined by the Cavs’ doctors. They certainly were looking for more in the way of additional compensation but the Celtics didn’t panic. Their offer was likely already the best the Cavs could get. Second rounders are a total crapshoot. We’ll see what becomes of this pick.
The Cavaliers are positioned to still compete for a title this season, and if LeBron leaves, they’ll have a head start on the rebuild with the Brooklyn pick and Zizic. Crowder would have some trade value as well. This is a best of both worlds deal for them.
Cavs Depth Chart
PG — Thomas / Rose / Calderon / Felder
SG — JR Smith / Korver / Shumpert
SF — LeBron / Crowder / Green / Jefferson
PF — Love / Frye / Osman
C — Thompson / Zizic / Tavares
The Celtics were going to have to consolidate assets into a star at some point. They were exploring doing so for Paul George and/or Jimmy Butler earlier in the off-season. They finally pulled the trigger and got a 25-year-old 4-time All-Star and NBA champion. He’s one of the best scorers in the league and is a better bet to sustain (even improve) his level of play over the next 5 years than Isaiah Thomas.
Celtics Depth Chart
PG — Irving / Rozier / Larkin / Jackson
SG — Tatum / Smart / Nader / Allen
SF — Hayward / Brown / Yabusele
PF — Horford / Morris / Ojeleye
C — Baynes / Theis
In the last 2 years, we’ve seen Kevin Durant join the team that beat him in the Western Conference Finals, and Kyrie Irving traded to the team he beat in the Eastern Conference Finals. All that’s left is for LeBron to jump ship to Golden State!