Last evening, it was first reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics were in “active trade discussions” that involved both teams star point guards, Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. And just about an hour later, Charania reported that an agreement was made and that the Celtics would be sending Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first-round pick to the Cavaliers in return for Kyrie Irving.
Kyrie Irving has been the subject of many trade rumors over the last month after it was reported by Brian Windhorst of ESPN that Irving had asked to be traded earlier that month. However, the Celtics weren’t really involved in any of the rumors floating around and were rarely brought up in any hypothetical trade scenarios and possible landing spots for Irving. So this deal caught the NBA world completely off guard.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CAVALIERS
So in return for their 24 year old All-Star point guard, the Cavs managed to pull in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first-round pick.
In Isaiah Thomas, the Cavaliers get a capable replacement at the point guard position for Kyrie Irving. And when you compare the numbers of Irving and Thomas from this past season, they had very similar production across the board.
Thomas was one of the best individual scorers in the league last season, scoring 28.9 points per game on shooting splits of 46.3 percent from the field, 37.9 percent from three and 90.9 percent from the free throw line. However, Thomas was one of the worst defenders in the league last season and is coming off of a hip injury he suffered in the playoffs.
Thomas is not much of a drop off from Irving as a player, given he is back to 100 percent and the hip injury doesn’t affect him, which will keep them atop the East and will give the Cavs an option as a player that can keep them afloat and they can attempt to build around if he wants to stay and re-sign in Cleveland if LeBron James were to bolt from Cleveland after next season.
Jae Crowder was also a great get in this deal for the Cavs. Crowder is one of the better 3-and-D wings in the league and is on a great deal, making $6.8 million this year, $7.3 million next season and $7.8 million in 2019-20. Crowder is a tough, versatile defender and shot 39.8 percent from three last season and will be a huge help when it comes to guarding opposing top wing players and taking some pressure off of LeBron James on that end.
The Cavs were also able to pry away the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first-round pick from the Celtics in this deal. This pick is almost definitely going to be a lottery pick and likely will be a top 5 or so pick. If the Cavs were to lose LeBron again after next season, this pick will help accelerate the Cavs rebuilding process afterward. If LeBron were to stay, this pick could be used to flip for another veteran player that could help the Cavs in the short term as well.
The Cavs also acquired Croatian big man and 2016 NBA Draft first-round pick Ante Zizic in the deal. Zizic is a 7-foot, 250 pound center and while he has yet to play a minute in the NBA, he has been a top prospect over in Europe for many years.
Overall, the haul the Cavs got for Irving looks to be a pretty good one. They got a good replacement for him in Isaiah Thomas, a good veteran player in Jae Crowder, a young center that many draft experts are high on in Ante Zizic and a possible top 5 pick as well. I actually think with the Cavs are a better team now than before the trade due to the drop off from Irving to Thomas being minimal and the addition of Crowder and they helped their future as well with Crowder being under contract for three more seasons, Zizic essentially being an incoming rookie first-round pick and getting Brooklyn’s pick next year.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE CELTICS
While at first glance it may seem that the Celtics overpaid a little for Kyrie Irving, I actually think the Celtics did fairly well in this deal.
While Irving and Thomas’s production was similar last season, as I mentioned above, I do think Irving is the better player of the two. On top of that, Irving is a full three years younger than Thomas and has at least an extra year (maybe two because he has a player option for the 2019-20 season) of control on his contract.
I also think Irving playing under Brad Stevens in Boston will help him open up his game more. I think playing under a top tier coach in a proper and defined offensive system could bring the best out of Kyrie as he is just entering his prime.
How good this deal is for the Celtics is very dependent on whether or not they can get Kyrie to re-sign after the 2018-19 season when his deal contract is up. If they can get Kyrie to commit long term, which early reports indicate he is willing, this deal will look much better than if he bolts after two seasons, obviously.
This deal also saved Boston from having to “back up the Brinks truck” for Isaiah Thomas after next season, which could have been messy for them. At 5’9″ and coming off a hip injury, Thomas’s game doesn’t appear to be one that will age particularly well and paying him big money into his thirties could have created a tough situation down the road.
Getting Kyrie on his deal controlled through this upcoming season and the one after and possibly for another year if he accepts his player option (he won’t), gives them at least an extra year before they have to pay big money for their star point guard. And, personally, I’d be more comfortable paying Kyrie big money at age 27 when his deal is up than paying Isaiah Thomas big money at age 29 after next season.
While losing Crowder is a pretty big loss for the Celtics, they did just bring in Gordon Hayward in free agency and have their No. 3 overall picks from the past two years in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum ready to play on the wing as well. Crowder’s defense will be missed and we probably will see the Celtics team defense take a step back a bit because of his absence.
The 2018 Brooklyn pick has been a prized possession for Danny Ainge over the past couple seasons but we finally saw him move it after it being talked about in rumors for so long. While this pick will potentially be a top five pick next year, the Celtics still have the Lakers first-rounder for next season which could also be in a similar range as well. They were also running out of time and ways to turn that pick into an established star player so I guess Ainge decided to pull the trigger on this one.
While this deal may look like an overpay when compared to the price that other star players have been going for this offseason, I still think this is a good deal for the Celtics. They added another star player to their roster who is younger, they have longer contract control of and, in my opinion, is better than the one they dealt for him. While losing Crowder and the Brooklyn pick may not have been ideal, I don’t think they impact the Celtics as much as some may think.
This is one of the rare trades in which I think both teams did well and helped themselves, both in the short term and long term. And, to make this deal even better, we get to see these teams face off on opening night in the first game of the season on October 17th.