The NBA off-season continues to be more dramatic than last season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have agreed to trade point guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick.
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge finally pulled the trigger in an effort to pursue an NBA title. Acquiring Kyrie Irving gives them an All-Star caliber player and one of the most effective offensive players in the league, and he will compliment new free-agent forward Gordon Hayward very well. They also avoid having to pay a super-max deal to point guard Isaiah Thomas with this move as well, thus assuring they won’t have to overpay a 5’8 point guard who is a defensive liability.
Earlier this off-season, Kyrie Irving went to Cavaliers management and requested a trade, with the rumor he no longer wanted to play second fiddle to Cavaliers forward LeBron James and be “the man” on another team. While Irving was granted his request, is he really “the man” on the Boston Celtics? Sure, he’s their most talented offense player now even with the arrival of prized free-agent forward Gordon Hayward, but the Celtics aren’t going to build around Irving. They’ll play team basketball and incorporate everyone on the court, something Kyrie Irving hasn’t always been best at considering he averages merely 5.6 assists per game for his career. Irving may have been gotten what he wanted in regards to moving away from LeBron James (*a dumb move, but more on that later*), but he isn’t going to be “the man” in Boston. And while there is also the rumor he will not commit long term to his new team, the Celtics will be hesitant to commit long term to an oft-injured ball dominant point guard.
Sure, the Celtics are now more offensively talented with the addition of Irving, but they’ve forgone their hard-nosed defensive mentality by trading away Crowder to the Cavaliers and trading guard Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons earlier this summer. Without their defensive tone-setters and swapping the same type of player, the Celtics aren’t much better than they were, and even then they weren’t able to be competitive in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavaliers. And considering the price they had to pay to acquire Irving wasn’t that much, we can still criticize Danny Ainge for being hesitant in trade discussions relating to now Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler and now Thunder forward Paul George. All the Celtics had to give up was a starter or two and a future draft pick, so the Celtics could have easily had either Butler or George earlier this off-season and improve their chances of dethroning King James and the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers come out winners in this deal in the short-term. They are still the best team in the Eastern Conference by making this move and will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals next year. While Isaiah Thomas is the worst defensive player in the league and there are lingering concerns regarding his hip injury he suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals, he is another offensive option for the Cavaliers who can get his own shot. They’ve essentially traded a ball dominant point guard for another ball dominant point guard, so not much changes for the Cavaliers offensively. The addition of Jae Crowder bolsters the Cavaliers’ defense as well, as he can guard a team’s best offensive player night in and night out. Crowder also shot nearly 40% from behind the three-point line last year, adding yet another sharp shooter to their three-point shooting heavy offense.
Regardless of whether or not the Cavaliers win the title next year, they know LeBron James is as good as gone. There’s only so much LeBron James can do to help this dysfunctional franchise, and the Cavaliers added an insurance policy for when LeBron James bolts for another team by acquiring Brooklyn’s 1st round pick. The Nets are sure to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this year, and the Cavaliers have effectively managed to mitigate the damage that will be done when LeBron James leaves, as they are sure to have a high draft pick in next year’s draft and can start rebuilding.
One thing I cannot wrap my mind around, however, is why Kyrie Irving requested a trade. Even though the Celtics are an ideal situation due to the fact they are contenders, Irving has thrown away a guaranteed trip to the NBA Finals by jettisoning away from LeBron James. Over the last seven seasons, any team LeBron James has played for has made it to the NBA Finals. He’s managed to win three titles during that span. Irving was also a more efficient player upon James’ arrival back to Cleveland, and was the man who made the game winning shot for the Cavaliers in Game 7 of 2016 NBA Finals because LeBron James, the best player in the world and ever, deferred to him. Why would anyone abandon a situation in which you are the second best player on the team only because you are playing beside the best player in the league and the best basketball player ever, yet still treated as a superstar/ “the man?”
While there will inevitably be a Shaq/ Kobe situation in which Irving will say he regrets leaving LeBron James and the way in which their time together ended, for now the NBA’s Eastern Conference has been made somewhat dramatic. While the season opener between these teams on October 17th will be sensationalized in an effort to make the upcoming NBA season seem less predictable, the Cavaliers are still the class of the Eastern Conference. Every fan also knows, however, everyone is playing for second place, as the Golden State Warriors are the overwhelming favorites to be champions for the third time in four years.