A look at the Details Behind the Cavs’ Kyrie Irving trade

A “fluid situation” no more. While it appeared that Kyrie Irving could enter training camp as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, things — to borrow a phrase — escalated quickly. While the rest of the Eastern Time Zone was settling in for dinner, Koby Altman and the Cavs’ front office was busy working the phones, ultimately sending Irving to the Boston Celtics.

Did the NBA know? They booked the Celtics as the league’s opening night game against the Cavaliers, a game which may very well go down as one of the most-watched regular season contests of the year.

Did David Griffin know? Without Boston being on Irving’s initial trade list, the former GM let it slip that Irving would like to play for Brad Stevens.

Nevertheless, the Cavaliers will now enter the 2017-18 season with the Eastern Conference’s leading scorer from a season ago, a guy touted as a “LeBron Stopper”, and a draft pick that the Celtics wouldn’t move in deals for both Paul George or Jimmy Butler. But how will the new pieces fit? What are the implications beyond what takes place on the floor? Who the hell is Ante Zizic? All this and more gets answered below.

On Court

  • For as much as he was outright exposed during the Eastern Conference Finals, Isaiah Thomas was second-team All-NBA last season. He efficiently scored 29 points per game last season, leading the conference, doing a ton of his damage in the fourth quarter of games. When folks questioned his lack of being a “true point guard” following a 52-point night, he followed it up with a 15-assist game. While he won’t necessarily help on the defensive end, assuming his hip checks out next month, the Cavaliers’ offense took little-to-no hits for the coming season.
  • While the Cavaliers failed to get better defensively at the point guard position, it’s impossible to argue they didn’t get better defensively all around. Against the Golden State Warriors last season, the Cavs were forced to deploy a 36-year-old Richard Jefferson (who has since turned 37) on the eventual series MVP in Kevin Durant. This season, they’ll have a 27-year-old Jae Crowder to do the work.
  • Fans may have spent the bulk of the last two years violently rooting against Crowder — trust me, I’ve seen the tweets — but you have a kid in his 20s who can play defense while hitting 39.8 percent of his three-point attempts a year ago. Crowder isn’t a liability at the line, hitting 81.1 percent of his free throws last season, so he can play in crucial minutes if needed, and his scoring can be in the teens despite a usage rate around 17 percent. Crowder is a starting-caliber player who will be able to come of the bench and not need the ball in his hands to be effective. When you talk about “fit”, this is it.
  • The name Ante Zizic will only resonate with those who appreciate basketball enough to follow European prospects and watch the NBA Summer League. Zizic is a seven-footer from Croatia who was drafted in the first round a summer ago. He was named the 2015-16 Adriatic Basketball Association’s (ABA) top prospect, where he averaged 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. This is the same league that produced guys like Jusef Nurkic and Nikola Jokic. On October 11 of last year, On October 11, the kid dropped 37 points and 20 rebounds in a single game. More Jonas than Dirk, Zizic is a banger down low with decent board awareness, deceptively quick feet, and a bit of a mean streak. This Boston Globe story called him the “most talented prospect you’ve never heard of.” Oh, and he also played for former Cavs head coach David Blatt. Here are some highlights:

On Paper

  • You’re going to want to sit down for this one. Entering Tuesday afternoon, the Cleveland Cavaliers possessed an $18.8 million obligation to Kyrie Irving for the 2017-18 season. In Thomas, Crowder, and Zizic, they’re bringing in $14.7 million.1 What hasn’t been discussed as much is that the Cavaliers had a $2.2 million Traded Player Exception that they can use to acquire Zizic’s $1.6 million deal. Netting out the big man means the Cavaliers actually brought in just $13 million, netting them a $5.8 million Traded Player Exception to use within the next year.2
  • The Cavaliers’ projected tax bill sat around $79 million for 2017-18. Shedding more than $4 million in salary means $12 million in total savings. Given that the team will have to trim the roster down by at least two, it would make sense for them to release guard Kay Felder and center Edy Tavares given their lack of guarantees, trimming their total salary cost to roughly $135 million for the upcoming season, equating to roughly $49 million in taxes due — a $30 million decrease compared to where they started. In the event a player with a higher salary is moved or released before the season, this number would drop even further. The moves are far from over.
  • When Irving signed his contract in 2014, it included a trade kicker that would pay him 15 percent of the remaining years of his salary. It’s not my money, but Irving waived the $5.8 million he would’ve been due to make the deal happen. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty happy every time I don’t have to cut a $5.8 million check to a guy who’s leaving my team.3
  • Entering Tuesday afternoon, the Cleveland Cavaliers were an aging team which added more veterans in free agency, staring down the barrel of a potential rebuilding period in the event LeBron James were to leave in free agency next summer. Rumors had them eying the future in terms of talent acquisition — Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were rumored to be desired assets in a deal with Boston — while trying to still compete for a championship this season. This deal allows the Cavaliers to have an All-Star point guard for this season and a draft pick to use in a potential mid-season or offseason trade, or to use in the draft to acquire what should be a top-five selection in next summer’s draft. It’s the ultimate flexibility.
  • Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018. He will also be eligible for a maximum contract worth 30 percent of the Cavaliers cap as the team will hold his Bird rights.
  • Crowder’s contract runs through 2019-20 and is worth less than $22 million in total. He will reach unrestricted free agency in 2020.
  • Zizic just signed his rookie contract and will be extension-eligible in the summer of 2020, assuming his third- and fourth-year team options are exercised. If he’s not extended, he’d be eligible for restricted free agency in 2021 much like the Matthew Dellavedova situation two years ago.
  • The Cavaliers traded their 2019 first-round pick to the Hawks in the deal for Kyle Korver. Given that Cleveland’s own Ted Stepien ruined things a few decades ago, this prevented the Cavaliers from trading their own 2018 first-round selection in any subsequent deal. With Brooklyn’s 2018 pick coming over in the Irving trade, the Cavaliers can once again trade their own ’18 first-rounder if a trade opportunity were to bubble up.
  • Regarding that unprotected pick: ESPN’s simulations give it about a 9 percent chance at being No. 1 overall. The last time the Cavaliers had an unprotected pick with single-digit probability of being No. 1 overall, it netted them Kyrie Irving.

Outstanding Questions

  • What will Ty Lue do to game plan around his new pieces? Brad Stevens utilized handoffs more than any other team in the NBA last season to utilize Thomas’ relatively unique skill set. The Cavaliers, conversely, were second-last in the league, relying mostly on isolation and drive-and-kick plays to take advantage of their three-point shooting.
  • Where will the Nets finish? Sure, they may be a bit improved from last season, but a bottom-five finish is almost certainly in the cards.
  • Where will the Los Angeles Lakers finish? Boston owns LA’s 2018 pick if it falls between second and fifth. The kick in the balls would come if the Cavaliers were to acquire the highest value pick in Brooklyn’s first, only to have the Celtics slot right ahead of them in the draft lottery.
  • How will fans welcome Irving back to The Q on October 17? How will LeBron welcome him back? All is well on Twitter and Instagram, but if we know anything about James, these sort of things tend to fuel him even more.
  1. This is allowed as Boston isn’t in the tax threshold. []
  2. $18.8 million less $13 million. []
  3. Had Kyrie not done so, the Cavaliers would have had to take on even more money as this kicker would count in the salary calculations. []