On Tuesday night, a bombshell rocked the NBA when the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics announced a major trade that swapped star guards Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas along with several other key parts.
Along with Thomas, Cleveland also picks up Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the rights to the first-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets in 2018. Boston simply gets Irving.
The trade has all kinds of ramifications for the Sixers and the rest of the Eastern Conference.
For the Cavaliers, this is a potentially franchise-saving deal. Before this deal, I completely believed that LeBron James was going to bolt Cleveland once he hit free agency next year. The Cavs were starting to have the feel of a sinking ship, with a capped-out roster stuck with an underwhelming Kevin Love and a lack of future assets, with a disgruntled Kyrie Irving that was trying to force his way out of town.
Now, the Cavaliers managed to more than adequately replace Irving with a comparable player in Thomas, but also upgraded their rotation by adding a solid young forward in Crowder to their mix.
But the best part of this deal for the Cavs is landing the Nets pick in 2018. Thanks to Billy King, Brooklyn is locked-in to be one of the worst teams in the NBA for years to come, and that pick will almost certainly be a top-three pick in the lottery next year again. The pick gives Cleveland a valuable tool to either help entice LeBron to stay, whether they use the pick to draft a top prospect, or use it in a deal to acquire another veteran, but even if James does leave them high and dry, the franchise is no longer completely screwed, as they’d still have Thomas, Love, Crowder, and the Nets pick to build around.
The Celtics on the other hand, lose this trade by a mile. If I’m a Boston fan, I’m furious about how this offseason has gone down. The Celtics won the top pick in the draft, only to trade away the rights to Markelle Fultz for the Sixers and didn’t even manage to come away with the complete rights to either the Laker pick in 2018 or the Kings’ pick in 2019.
And now, Danny Ainge has made a trade that strips the team of assets, and doesn’t make the Celtics a better team than they were before. Irving and Thomas are players with very comparable skillsets. Maybe Irving has the higher ceiling, but he’s also a guy that’s struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, and was never able to get the Cavs to so much as a .500 record before James came back to town. Losing a solid guy like Crowder only hurts the team’s depth, and throwing away next year’s Brooklyn pick doesn’t make a lick of sense.
If Ainge had stood pat and kept the Celtics as they were previously constructed, they probably would have won the East. As mentioned previously, before this trade, the Cavs were a team in turmoil. With Irving demanding to get out, and the questions about James’ commitment to the franchise after this season, the distractions surrounding Cleveland could easily have caused that team to implode into themselves, leaving the already-powerful Celtics to seize the conference.
Even if the Cavs found another taker for Irving, I can’t imagine what team would be able to come close to matching the package that the Celtics just paid. Few teams have the rights to a pick as valuable as the Nets’ pick to offer.
Instead, Ainge has gone and kindly removed Cleveland’s biggest distraction from the picture, and replaced it by giving the team newfound hope with Thomas and Crowder coming to provide fresh blood and upgrade the roster this year, while also allowing the franchise to look to next year’s Brooklyn pick as a beacon of hope as well.
Its one of the most painfully shortsighted trades I’ve ever seen.