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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cavaliers Unload Disgruntled Irving, Position Themselves for Another Finals Run

When Kyrie Irving made it clear that he no longer wanted to be LeBron James' sidekick in Cleveland, it seemed that the Cavaliers would be forced to trade Irving for pennies on the dollar. Instead, the Cavaliers struck gold, shipping Irving to the Boston Celtics for All-NBA Second Team point guard Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn's 2018 first round draft pick.

The winner of an NBA trade is typically considered to be the team that received the best individual player. Irving and Thomas have similar skill sets--they are both dynamic scorers who are above average playmakers and below average defenders--but Irving is younger and bigger so it is reasonable to say that he is the better player. However, Cleveland received additional assets in the trade--Crowder is a solid, two-way rotation player, Zizic has good potential and the first round pick could potentially turn into another rotation player--and did not have much apparent leverage since Irving wanted out; weighing all of those factors, the Cavaliers did very well.

Thomas finished fifth in the 2017 NBA regular season MVP voting, trailing only Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. He averaged a career-high 28.9 ppg and he set career-highs with his .463 field goal percentage and .909 free throw percentage while logging one of the best offensive seasons in the Celtics' rich history.

Irving has a better postseason resume than Thomas, including a Finals MVP caliber performance in 2016 as the Cavaliers captured their first NBA title. Like Thomas, Irving had a career year in the 2017 regular season, setting career highs in scoring (25.2 ppg), field goal percentage (.473) and free throw percentage (.905). However, while Irving has thrived as James' sidekick it is far from clear that he can be the face of the franchise for a contending team the way that Thomas was last season as Boston posted the best record in the Eastern Conference. Irving has never received a regular season MVP vote, the Cavaliers were lousy when he was the best player on the team and since James returned to Cleveland the Cavaliers have hardly won a game in James' absence even when Irving plays. Granted, the cupboard was rather bare when Irving was the team's best player and the sample size of games that James has missed is relatively small, but even though Irving appears to have a Kobe Bryant/Russell Westbrook killer mentality--exemplified by the series-clinching dagger he nailed in the 2016 NBA Finals--he may lack the size, leadership ability and two-way skill set necessary to carry a franchise to championship contention as the best player.

The bottom line is that head to head I would take Irving over Thomas, so I understand why the Celtics made this trade--but considering that Irving forced the Cavaliers' hand and they could have ended up with much less than they did, the Cavaliers did quite well and still must be ranked as the team most likely to win the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 PM



At Wednesday, August 23, 2017 9:17:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I could see why the Celts would make a straight up trade of Thomas/Irving (with whatever necessary cap filler), but it boggles my mind that they gave up as much as they did.

* First, even if we buy the idea that Irving is better (I'm not sure I do; Thomas is a better passer and a less predictable offensive player and both are near-zeroes defensively), the idea that Irving's youth is a big selling point strikes me as specious. He's only got two years left on his deal and seems to badly want to play in either NY or somewhere sunny, and like Thomas has a troubling injury history for a guy who plays a style where he gets hit all the time. While Thomas only has one year left on his current deal, he'd been very vocal about wanting to stay in Boston long term, so the "future" argument is dubious at best.

* Jae Crowder is a strong two-way player on an excellent deal. Losing both he and Bradley in the same offseason and adding only Hayward as a plus defender will hurt a Boston team that already struggled to cover for their PG on that end. It's basically impossible to get a better player than Crowder for meaningfully cheaper anywhere but the draft (though Thomas himself is a one-season interesting exception, he'll cost about eight times what Crowder does from then on).

* That Brooklyn pick is unprotected and could be a better player than Thomas or Irving. At worst, it'll be, what, the seventh pick? Still likely a solid rotation player (though by no means guaranteed). It, like Crowder, is an extremely potent trade asset that could have packaged in separate deal for star or star-ish wing or center (without losing Thomas).

* Zizic may well be good. Thomas + Zizic would have been fine, but with assets like Crowder and the pick it seems like a needlessly further mortgages future assets for a (potential) mild upgrade.

I get why Cleveland did it, easy. I have no idea why Boston did. They're gonna feel real dumb if Kyrie blows out his knee again and/or ditches them in two years. Or if his dribble-heavy style can't adapt to Stevens' ball-movement focused offense.

At Friday, August 25, 2017 12:46:00 AM, Anonymous Yogi said...


Boston did it because they were not winning anything with IT, and in light of his age and physique, they did not want to pay him the max - which he was already demanding.
Kyrie is the rare player that can function very well in the playoffs and make something out of nothing, which is crucial at times. So, I understand the thinking.I'm just not sure why Boston had to include their pick - but who knows what other offers were on the table and how bad IT's injury is? You either trust Danny or not...

At Friday, August 25, 2017 8:21:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Yeah, like I said, I get making the core trade, I just don't get giving up all those extra pieces to do it. Feels like an overpay to me, and one that doesn't make the Celtics better.

At Friday, August 25, 2017 7:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Irving can actually play great defense at times, as he's shown in the playoffs, and play at an MVP-caliber level in the Finals against an all-time historically-great team. I'm not sure he's much better than Thomas overall, but I'd definitely take him over Thomas. As far as the rest of the trade, it makes no sense. CLE looks like the clear winners of the trade, which had no leverage to begin with. Ainge really messed up.

At Friday, September 01, 2017 6:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Well, makes a bit more sense now why the Celts had to overpay; apparently Thomas' injury is still a major issue.


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