On Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics completed a blockbuster trade, swapping superstar guards Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving. The move brings a month of rumors and in-fighting between Irving and Cleveland to a close. In the end, the team exchanged a disgruntled star and in return received pieces to win now and look to the future.
In addition to acquiring Thomas, who was a borderline MVP candidate last season for the Celtics, the Cavs got center Ante Zizic and swingman Jae Crowder, along with an unprotected first round pick that Boston originally swindled from the Brooklyn Nets.
Zizic, who the Celtics selected 23rd overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, is the most nondescript piece in the trade considering the man has yet to play in an NBA game (he spent 2016 playing in Europe and just signed with the team officially this summer). From what little I’ve seen, he appears to be a high energy role player in the mold of a Chris “Birdman” Anderson with a bit more upside on the offensive end.
Crowder won’t likely be asked to do as much as he did in Boston with LeBron James around (for now). He can defend multiple positions (primarily shooting guard and small forward, possibly power forward in small ball lineups). Additionally, he gives James another three point shooter to possibly help compete with the Golden State Warriors should they return to the Finals.
Of course, Thomas and the first round pick brings the most value. The five-foot, nine-inch dynamo averaged 28.9 points per game with a .463/.379/.909 shooting line. Much like Irving, Thomas can create his own shot, finish around the basket, and can take over the primary ball handling duties whenever James needs a breather. With the abundance long range shooters on the Cavs roster, Thomas should have no problem getting easy looks in the paint. The problems may arise on the other side of the ball; Thomas was one of the worst defenders in the league last year and head coach Tyronn Lue might have to hide him on defense by putting him on a lesser offensive player. His small stature might make that an arduous task.
That said, Thomas is a free agent at the end of the 2016-17 season, and will likely receive a significant pay raise (he will make $6.2 million this season). Thomas’ impending free agency might make him tough to move before next season.
The combined age of the Cavs roster coupled with Thomas’ looming free agency and LeBron’s uncertain future in Cleveland makes the first round pick the most helpful asset. The Nets will probably end up finishing with one of the worst records in the NBA, thus guaranteeing the pick now in Cleveland’s possession will end up in the top five at least. So, if Thomas is nothing more than a one-season rental, the Cavs can simply restock with a hopeful young budding star (and someone to build around if James leaves too).
As for Irving, he ostensibly gets what he wants: a chance to be “the guy” in Boston. In terms of strengths and weaknesses, he is very similar to Thomas (25.9 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.2 rpg, and -1.0 defensive win shares), although he is three years younger than Thomas. Furthermore, the former number one overall pick is under contract for the next two seasons (the final year is a player option), enough time for him to determine whether Beantown is the right fit for him. At the very least, he won’t have to worry about James barking at him in-between timeouts.
Honestly, this trade has ramifications that will last beyond this coming season. The Celtics and the Cavs still remain the favorites in the Eastern Conference this year (making this all the more interesting). Both teams may have secured their present and possibly their future with this trade. If nothing else, the deal adds a little more intrigue to the seemingly inevitable Cavs/Celtics Eastern Conference Finals matchup.