Kyrie Irving sent shockwaves around the league this summer when he requested a trade away from the Cleveland Cavaliers. A NBA champion at the age of 25 and enjoying a virtually guaranteed trip to the finals every year alongside one of the all-time greats, Irving seemed to be the envy of almost every player in the league.
However Irving remained adamant that he sought greener pastures, with reports indicating that he was tired of constantly playing under the shadow of LeBron James. As one of the premier point guards in the league, Irving found no shortage of suitors, but it was up to the Cavaliers to find a package of picks and players that would sufficiently compensate for the loss of the man who had hit the game winning shot of the most pivotal game in team history.
Finally, after dozens of trade scenarios, an unlikely name came to the fore last week: the Boston Celtics. The Celtics had faced off against the Cavaliers in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, and a blockbuster trade between the first and second seeds would have seemed unlikely, if nothing else due to the competition. However, Boston offered a significant package: their own all-star point guard, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the coveted 2018 Brooklyn pick.
For Cleveland, the benefits are obvious. Thomas had a breakout season last year, averaging 29 points per game, and should be up to the task of filling up the gap left by Irving. Crowder is a solid starter on a great contract; he averaged a career high inthree point shooting last season and provides Lebron a defensive break by acting as another body to throw at Kevin Durant in the finals. Zizic is a solid prospect, although a little raw and yet to play NBA minutes, but the real crown jewel of this package is the Nets pick. Projected to be a lottery pick, it gives the Cavaliers an easy route into a rebuild should LeBron seem ever more likely to leave Cleveland next summer.
Boston’s side of the trade is a little less clear. Irving is certainly an established star only just entering his prime. However, for a team that has hoarded its assets for so long and refused trades including Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins, it is a little perplexing why Boston might give in so easily to acquire a point guard that has already tanked his trade value by demanding an exit. With context, however, it becomes clear: Thomas, despite having a career year, is much older than Irving and is out of contract next summer. As this will likely be his last opportunity for a major payday, he will almost certainly demand a long term max contract — one that would eat up a significant portion of Boston’s cap space for an undersized point guard on the wrong side of 30. This is compounded by the fact that Boston’s young core, centered around Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, would be beginning to develop into premier talent around during that time period. Thomas may be a fan-favorite, but the Celtics would be wise to refuse his demands of a long term contract, and from a purely business point of view, he holds little value to the Celtics in the present.
Jae Crowder is in something of a similar boat. While he is a solid player on a team-friendly contract, his timeline does not match up with Brown’s or Tatum’s, and he would only take valuable minutes away from them. In addition, with the signing of Gordon Hayward this summer, Crowder would have seemed superfluous. Zizic is only a prospect, likely added just to make salaries match. The Nets’ pick, then, is the only real item of value given up by Boston. However, given the unpredictability of the draft, it is always advisable to take an established star over a draft pick.
It is always difficult to see how trades will pan out. The very trade that got the Celtics their Nets’ picks in the first place was seen at the time as a solid, balanced trade, but as the years passed it became very apparent that the Celtics had gotten the upper hand. Still, from what we know now, it seems the impossible has happened: the two best teams in a conference have completed a major trade moving key pieces and yet both have benefited from it.
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