Wow. Long live the NBA offseason! The summer of blockbusters continued Tuesday, as the Cavaliers traded star guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 unprotected first-round pick, according to multiple reports. The deal comes in the wake of Irving’s trade request earlier this summer. Thomas ended the playoffs unable to finish the conference finals against the Cavs due to injury, but is coming off the best season of his career. Let’s grade the deal from both sides.
Cavaliers acquire: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Nets' 2018 unprotected first
Cleveland was in a difficult position after Irving’s trade request. The draft had already occurred, and teams were unable to trade free agents they signed in early July. But somehow, the Cavs are coming out of their deal with Boston with both short-term and long-term benefits. For next season—which could be LeBron’s last in Cleveland—the Cavs will still be very competitive. Thomas is a downgrade from Irving, but he’s still a tough scorer coming off a borderline MVP campaign who should be able to fill up the bucket alongside LeBron. Crowder is a great pickup for Cleveland. The Cavs desperately needed a dependable three-point shooter who could also defend in the Finals, and Crowder fits that description perfectly. He’s on a cheap contract, and he will make the Cavs’ small-ball lineups much more palatable next season.
The real coup here is the Nets pick. Boston has so far been extremely reluctant to part with the assets they received from Brooklyn in 2013. Now, Cleveland owns what should be a very valuable lottery selection in next year’s draft. If LeBron leaves, the Cavs can kickstart their rebuild right away with a good pick. If LeBron stays, Cleveland has an asset that can be flipped for another star, or add some much-needed youth to the roster.
Thomas is in the final year of his contract, which means Cleveland will be in the tough position to decide whether to give him a max deal next summer. Still, the Cavs will have options, and many decisions will hinge on LeBron’s future first. Thomas’s contract status is not insignificant, but it’s an issue that won’t necessarily be very difficult to resolve.
Ultimately, the Cavs are still going to have issues on defense at point guard, but they haven’t gravely affected their short-term outlook while significantly brightening their long-term one.
Celtics acquire: Kyrie Irving
After years of hesitation and false starts, Boston finally gave away a Nets draft pick, and it feels slightly underwhelming. Irving is a great scorer who is also young with a better contract status than Thomas moving forward. But he has serious deficiencies as a defender, and he was never able to lift Cleveland to respectable heights without James. After the various deals the Celtics went halfway in on, coming away with Irving for arguably their best asset leaves a little to be desired.
But the deal is far from a failure for Boston. Irving is an upgrade over Thomas, his deal runs through next season, and his age is better aligned with Boston’s core. The Celtics also did well to hold on to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two promising forwards who can be valuable contributors—and who also leave the door open for future trades.
It’s a good trade for the Celtics, but not necessarily a great one. It pushes them slightly closer to a Finals berth, which is an interesting push considering the team seemed intent on waiting out LeBron a few months ago. But with James’s future in the East in question, Boston is looking at a potentially wide-open conference in the near future with a talented young core that still has some flexibility for more moves.
NBA Watchers: A++
The best part of this deal? We won’t have to wait long to see how it plays out on the court. The first game of the NBA season is—you guessed it—Celtics at Cavaliers. See you on Oct. 17.