The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the biggest trade of the 2017 NBA offseason. Kyrie Irving is going to the Boston Celtics, while Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick are going to the Cavaliers.
The deal makes sense for both teams on paper. Crowder and Thomas help the Cavs compete for a championship in what may be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland. And Boston gets a taller point guard who’s somewhat better at defense – all while keeping their core assets.
Boston makes the biggest leap here from an immediate perspective. But is it enough to push the Celtics towards a title? Find out as we analyze the deal from Boston’s perspective. We’ll also cover how the trade affects the Cavaliers.
Boston Accomplishes 2 Things with Irving Trade
While the Celtics have a strong core, the one thing plaguing them is the lack of a true superstar. Thomas was the closest thing, averaging 28.9 PPG and 5.9 APG. However, he’s constantly critiqued for being too small (5’8″) on the defensive end.
They also have Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart, who are all quite good. But Hayward is a fringe All-Star while the other three are on an even lower tier.
This all changes with Irving, though, who has the ability to take over games with his driving ability. He averaged 25.2 PPG last season while playing alongside fellow All-Stars LeBron James and Kevin Love. Irving has also been to the NBA Finals three straight times, which is invaluable for a group that just made the conference finals last year.
Another thing that the Celtics accomplish is avoiding handing Thomas a max deal. The All-Star point guard has been great on the scoring end.
But it was a necessity to keep shooting guard Avery Bradley (now with Pistons) around to cover up Thomas’ defensive deficiencies. That said, many analysts have questioned whether giving Thomas a 5-year max deal was a smart decision. Now they don’t have to worry about it any longer.
Ainge Pulls the Trigger
Four years ago, the Brooklyn Nets gifted Boston with a package of first-round picks that had other teams salivating. But Ainge had been reluctant to unload the picks, even using one this season to trade down to the No. 3 selection.
The result is that the Celtics have accumulated young talent like Jaylen Brown and Duke forward Jayson Tatum. Many wondered when Ainge would finally use these picks and/or young talent to land a superstar.
The good news is that it only took a single Nets pick, a player they didn’t want to re-sign anyways, and Crowder. The latter is a valuable two-way player. However, Crowder became more expendable when Hayward was signed this offseason.
The Celtics have dramatically changed their roster since losing 4-1 to Cleveland in the conference finals. Now, only Brown, Horford, Smart, and Terry Rozier remain from last year’s team.
Overall, Boston is a Better Team
What’s more is that they still have young talent in Rozier, Tatum, and Brown to build around for years to come. If they can re-sign Irving in 2019, then the 25-year-old point guard will also play a pivotal role in their future.
Can they dethrone Cleveland in the East?
It’s not a given. But we can be sure that Boston is much closer than they were last week. Furthermore, they also have the impressive combination of scoring and long-limbed athletes who can compete with the Golden State Warriors.
How does the Trade Impact Cleveland?
This has been far from a dream offseason for the Cavs. They started the summer by parting ways with general manager David Griffin. Then came the bombshell that Irving had requested a trade to a handful of successful teams.
Given the trade request, it was clear that Irving wanted to be elsewhere. But it wasn’t clear until now what value they could get from a player with only two years left on his contract.
In the end, things worked out pretty well for Cleveland because they got players that can help them complete now in Thomas and Crowder. Plus they received what figures to be a lottery pick in next summer’s draft.
The Cavs may opt not to sign Thomas to a max deal in the offseason. But Crowder is on a very team-friendly deal for the next three years. And they can either use the pick to build for the future, or trade it for a better chance to win now.
Yet another plus is that they’ll save lots of money in luxury tax payments after dealing Irving’s max contract. Additionally, Cleveland has some flexibility to put together a team, which is something that they just didn’t have entering the offseason as a capped-out franchise.
Does Cleveland Win the East in 2018?
Thomas certainly doesn’t help Cleveland’s defensive efforts. After all, he’s already one of the league’s worst defenders at his position. And he doesn’t figure to get any better coming off a surgically repaired hip.
He should pair well on offense with James, Love, and J.R. Smith. Thomas also shoots the three well (37.9%), which is important when playing with an excellent passer like James.
Crowder is one of the best values in the league for his contract size. He’s due $6.8 million this year, $7.3 million next season, and $7.8 million in the 2019-20 campaign. This is a major bargain when considering that Crowder is a good scorer (13.9 PPG), shooter (39.9% from three), and defender.
The last part is important because Cleveland needs another strong wing defender besides James. Moreover, he could cover Durant while James slides over to Draymond Green and conserves energy against the Warriors.
Many wonder if James will leave Cleveland in free agency after this season. If that happens, at least the Cavs have Brooklyn’s pick and a 2016 first-rounder in Zizic to accelerate their rebuild.