For Kyrie Irving, the grass truly is greener on the other side. The All Star point guard will be donning the bright green jerseys of the Cavaliers’ opponents in the Eastern Conference Finals as he was traded to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. In return, the Cavaliers received All Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, talented wing Jae Crowder, young prospect Ante Zizic, and an unprotected first round pick from the Brooklyn Nets.
For Cavaliers fans this is a sad day. Irving hit the biggest shot in the history of the franchise, perhaps a defining moment for a city with three major sports teams. But it was more than The Shot, after LeBron James’ departure to Miami, Irving gave Cavaliers fans hope. He was the talented young point guard that was going to lift the Cavaliers out of the dregs of the league and back to the playoffs. With LeBron returning, Irving delivered on that promise and then some.
But he is also sabotaging a title contender. The Shot will ring in this city forever, but it shouldn’t stop us from wanting more. Cleveland was the butt of jokes for years for their lack of championships, if we cling too tightly to our one, it doesn’t necessarily make us look any less pathetic. We consider cities like Boston and Pittsburgh our rivals, and I doubt holding up our one ring shuts up cities with such rich sports histories. So while we can appreciate what Kyrie provided, it’s also ok to be angry in how he’s exited.
There will be plenty of time to break out a tub of ice cream and sort through our feelings, but for now, here are my feelings on the trade:
In terms of value, the Cavaliers got a fairly massive haul. The headline piece is Isaiah Thomas, a jitterbug point guard that has put up numbers that eclipse even Kyrie Irving’s incredible efficiency. He can pass, he can shoot, he can score in isolation. There should be very little drop off offensively with Thomas running the point. Defensively, the Cavs will have issues. Thomas has rated as one of the worst defenders in the league over the past few seasons and at under six feet in height, it isn’t a question of effort or intelligence. He is a massive black hole on that end and if we put him to the “Can he play against the Warriors?” test, he probably fails. Or at least fails is not an answer to their attack.
Jae Crowder is a versatile wing that passes that Warriors test with flying colors. He can defend multiple positions at a high level and does the little things well in the same way as Tristan Thompson. While he shot a career high 40 percent from three last season, that is an outlier and it’s difficult to know what to expect from him this year. Playing next to James often gives guys a bump in their percentages, but I doubt we Crowder approach that 40 percent figure, again. Crowder has massive value due to being under contract for three more seasons at less than ten million dollars per year. Whereas Thomas is entering his last season under contract and has made it clear he is looking for a max deal, the Cavaliers will control Crowder for three season, giving them a useful player or a trade asset down the road.
Ante Zizic is a lottery ticket with some upside. The seven footer spent last season with old friend David Blatt and fits a need on the Cavaliers as a large human being. Larger, traditional centers are no longer a major focal point in the NBA, but can be useful in the right match ups.
The most interesting piece of the deal is the unprotected pick coming from the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets should again be among the worst teams in the league, especially after trading away Brook Lopez, giving this pick a lot of value. The Cavaliers could easily use it in a trade (if, say, DeMarcus Cousins or Marc Gasol become available at the deadline), or hold on to it and simply select a player (say, if LeBron leaves, or if they want to add younger talent to this core.) Expect to hear the Cavs pop up in trade rumors all year as they will be wielding one of the most coveted assets in the league.
All in all this is a huge win for the Cavaliers relative to what could be expected. Trading a talent like Kyrie Irving is difficult, but this haul is about as good as could be expected given the circumstances. We’ve seen plenty of other stars get moved for far less, and the Cavaliers will likely be better this season and have a major asset to use this year or next. It won’t be fun to see Kyrie in a Celtics uniform, but the Cavaliers are still in the driver’s seat in the East.