Deals like this are not supposed to happen. A superstar player who has been to three straight titles, hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history, and helped a city win a title for the first time in 40 years is not supposed to request a trade. Similarly, a star player who was top three in the league in scoring, led a team to the best record in their division, and revived the hopes of one of the league’s hallmark franchises is not supposed to be seen as expendable. Lastly, teams that competed in the conference finals and were prohibitive favorites to meet once again are not supposed to trade pieces let alone superstars, especially at the same position. However, last night one of the biggest trades in NBA history occurred as the Cleveland Cavaliers sent Kyrie Irving to Beantown in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Nets first round pick. Speculation about Kyrie being traded after his trade demand has swirled over the past month as multiple teams such as the Suns, Knicks, Timberwolves, and Spurs were seen as the most likely candidates to acquire the young point guard. At the end of the day, this was the best deal that the Cavaliers could have received as it keeps the team as the conference favorites while protecting their future in case LeBron James decides to leave after the season.
The Cavaliers were in a peculiar position because they are a win-now team and anything besides a title appearance would be seen as a disappointed, but they are also looking toward the future in case of the departure of LeBron. The Cavaliers were able to satisfy both these needs through this trade, which makes this deal a win for the organization. Last season, Thomas was one of the best players in basketball due to his crafty ball-handling and clutch ability to lead the Celtics down the stretch of games. Thomas should be able to easily step in for Irving as his game closely mimics the former Duke guard. Thomas should be more willing to accept a second role behind James as he was never supposed to be a star in the league. Thomas was the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft, started his career as a backup, and has already played for four different teams. Along with Thomas, the Cavs acquired small forward Jae Crowder. Crowder will become a valuable piece for Ty Lue because of his ability to defend multiple different positions and stretch a defense. If the Cavs make the finals and undoubtedly play the Warriors for the fourth straight year, Crowder will be an important cog asked to guard either Thompson, Iguodala, Durant, or Green. In addition, Crowder brings a tough demeanor to the squad as they will look to play a more physical brand of basketball against the more talented Warriors. While these two pieces will help bring Cleveland to their fourth straight Eastern Conference title, the acquisition of the Nets 2018 first round pick should keep them in contention for years to come. Although the Nets have improved their roster with the acquisitions of DeMarre Carroll, DeAngelo Russell, and Timofey Mozgov, they are still one of the worst teams in the league and the Cavs could land the first overall pick.
While the deal does have considerable upside for the Cavs, there are many potential downsides. The biggest risk in the deal is IT’s hip, which required surgery this offseason. Thomas is a skilled player, but without his shiftiness and lateral quickness he is not nearly as valuable a player. If he is unable to perform at a high level offensively, he is a negative on the court as he ranks as one of the worst defensive play makers in the league. In addition, even though Kyrie had his faults, he was undoubtedly one of the best offensive weapons in the league that could score on any team and any player in the league. Over the past two Finals appearances, Kyrie showed an ability to take over a game, which only a handful of players can do in the league. Due to Thomas’s diminutive size, he simply cannot control a game like Irving against the best competition. This fact became evident when the Celtics played the Cavs and were actually a better team without Thomas on the floor. Similarly, how Thomas was unable to defend Irving, he will have no chance at containing Curry. Although Cleveland improved their depth in this deal, they needed more top shelf talent if they want to continue their arms race with one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
Even though NBA rivals across the league are arguing that the Cavs easily won the trade, I do not agree with that sentiment and believe that the Celtics did incredibly in this deal. In today’s NBA landscape, it is imperative to acquire top shelf that has the ability to create baskets for themselves and their teammates. The Celtics acquired a controllable 25-year-old All Star/NBA Champion point guard for the 5’9” player who was going to command a $30 million per year deal next season, a role player, a 20-year-old center who is a project, and a first round pick. Anyone who does not see this as a big plus for the Celtics does not know basketball. Unless Kyrie leaves in two years’ time, the Celtics will be able to establish a big three of Irving, Horford, and Hayward that should be able to compete for the Eastern Conference title for the next 5-10 years. Along with the trio, the team has budding stars such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Even if the team falls short of beating the Cavs this season, they will undoubtedly become the prohibitive favorites to win the conference if/when LeBron jumps ship and exits The Land. In addition, under the tutelage of Brad Stevens, Kyrie should be able to elevate his game to an even higher level as he tries to bring himself from superstar to best player on a championship team. Even though it is likely that he will never reach the level of James, Durant, Westbrook, and Curry, if Danny Ainge continues to find the right group of players, this team could win a title in a few years.
While the Celtics and Cavaliers were both seen as winners in the deal, the ultimate winner was the Golden State Warriors. This trade guarantees the Warriors their second straight title and third title in four years. Cleveland showed that the only way to beat the Warriors is if you have at least two players that are literally unstoppable and able to take over and win a Finals game. Currently the NBA has about 5-7 of these players in the league and the Cavs just lost one of these players. Even though IT is great, the Warriors will be able to devise a plan to defend him due to his small size. In addition, Crowder is not a big enough upgrade over Iman Shumpert or JR Smith to make difference against the likes of Durant or Thompson or Green. Obviously injuries could keep the Warriors from fulfilling their destiny, but that is the only thing now standing in between them and history.