- Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler were all traded this summer. With these deals set in stone, one question remains: Which was the biggest?
When one of the NBA's best players is involved in a trade, the details of that deal are inherently complicated. As their team scours the league for best deal possible, media and fans are forced to bide their time. We've experienced this with players like Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and other big stars who forced their way out of town.
This summer saw quite the opposite, with moves happening in furious fashion; Jimmy Butler was traded before free agency hit, Chris Paul was gone soon after and Paul George followed. With all these moves set in stone, only one question remains: Which trade was the biggest? The Crossover's team of writers set out to determine the answer.
Ben Golliver: Chris Paul, Rockets
By virtually any measure, the Rockets’ acquisition of Chris Paul should be regarded as the summer’s biggest trade. First, he’s got a strong case as the best overall player to change teams: Paul ranked No. 2 in Real Plus Minus, No. 9 in Player Efficiency rating, and No. 7 in SI’s Top 100 NBA Players of 2018 (the highest-ranked player to change teams). Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Kyrie Irving might be younger and more athletic, but Paul has been a consensus top 10 player for five years, he’s captained a top-six offense for six consecutive seasons in L.A., and he’s led five straight 50-win teams.
Past that, Houston is the best team to make an impact trade this summer. The Rockets had the third-best record and the second-best offense in the league last season, and they will pair Paul with the best player he’s ever played with in James Harden. Golden State and San Antonio mostly kept their bands together this summer, while Cleveland took a step back losing Irving. One might argue that Boston’s addition of Irving is similar in scope to the Paul move, but adding Irving and Gordon Hayward required numerous key rotation players being dealt elsewhere. The Rockets might not have made the 2017 conference finals like the Celtics did, but they were a better team and managed to add Paul without gutting their roster.
The Harden/Paul pairing further elevates this trade because there are historical and legacy implications in play. Paul is a first-ballot Hall of Famer looking to reach his first conference finals and solidify his place among the league’s top all-time point guards. Harden is an MVP runner-up seeking to bolster a weak postseason resume. Both players are hoping to play for their first 60-win teams and to team up to guide an offense that could rank among the five best of all time. Nothing that happens in Oklahoma City, Minnesota or Boston this season is going to rival that.
Let’s not overlook the counter costs when weighing this summer’s biggest moves either. Losing Paul knocks the Clippers out of the West’s top-tier chase pack. Chicago (Butler), Indiana (George) and most of the other teams that lost top-flight superstars likely wouldn’t have been leading contenders even if they had held on to their franchise players, while the addition of Isaiah Thomas keeps the post-Irving Cavaliers in the title conversation. The Paul trade, therefore, shook two franchises in a way that none of this summer’s other blockbuster deals can match.
Andrew Sharp: Paul George, Thunder
To appreciate where we are, go back six months. OKC crashed and burned in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Russell Westbrook took 18 threes in Game 5. The supporting cast was invisible. They were run off the floor by a Rockets team that didn't actually have that much more talent. The difference between the Thunder and the Rockets in that series was that Houston's pieces fit better together, and fit where the league was going. The question in OKC was how Sam Presti could possibly change that equation.
Victor Oladipo was just beginning an $80 million extension, Enes Kanter was making a combined $35 million through 2019, and Doug McDermott was the latest in a long line of failed OKC experiments on the wing. Maybe Alex Abrines would turn the corner? Maybe Terrance Ferguson would help more than expected? Even after an MVP year with Westbrook -- and before a contract year with Westbrook -- the future looked bleak.
Now it's October and things have changed. Presti swept in on the night before free agency to steal Paul George from Indiana while dumping Oladipo's deal at the same time. He got Patrick Patterson from Toronto on a wonderful discount, and then he turned Kanter and McDermott into Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo's not perfect, but he's got all the same weaknesses as Kanter and twice as many strengths. Patterson isn't a star, but if he's a back-up stretch four, he's excellent. George's stay in OKC isn't necessarily permanent, but for now, he looks like the All-Star wing you'd design in a science lab to pair with last year's version of Westbrook.
Speaking of which, the MVP is here for good now. As of Kevin Durant's birthday, Westbrook is locked in for five more years after this one, signing the richest contract in NBA history. That was the payoff to the rest of the summer's work. Now Westbrook will spend the year recruiting George to stay and gunning for Golden State with more talent than any challenger in the league. The rest of us will spend at least half that time wondering how in the world the Thunder pulled this off.
Rob Mahoney: Jimmy Butler, Wolves
NBA types wondered for years what it might take to pry Jimmy Butler out of Chicago. It turns out, not much; Minnesota was able to land one of the best wing players in the league without giving up a single proven entity or blue-chip prospect in return. This was a deal of incredible consequence. Not only did its consummation take Butler off the market for bidders like the Cavs and Celtics, but it finally dragged the Bulls into a reluctant rebuild. Chicago will finally be as bad as it needs to be to get a fresh start. The Wolves, for their part, scored an All-Star perfectly suited to put Tom Thibodeau's plans into action without conceding Karl Towns or Andrew Wiggins in the process.
Any occasion to acquire a player of Butler's caliber has the potential to change a franchise. Butler doubles up on that promise through his dual roles as player and motivator. His leadership style can be stubborn, but the young Wolves could use his particular brand of ass-kicking to make good on swelling expectations. Hope lives again in Minneapolis and the league's longest active playoff drought (13 years!) is about to be put to rest. What could be bigger than that?
Rohan Nadkarni: Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Was Kyrie Irving the best player traded this summer? No. But the trade sending him to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and a draft pick was easily the craziest deal of the offseason. Two conference rivals, who just went head to head in the conference finals, swapping stars? That was an unprecedented move.
And here's the thing about Irving: Of all the players moved the past few months, he'll have the biggest opportunity to re-write his career on his new team. Irving is still only 25. He's not an established solo star looking for a shot at a championship. He's not a 30+ vet looking to end his career in a winning city. Irving already knows what it's like to take and make Finals-winning shots, but he doesn't know what it's like to carry the burden of a franchise himself. Irving won't get exactly that in Boston, not with Gordon Hayward around.
But outside of LeBron's gravitational pull, Irving will get a chance to prove to everyone, including himself, if he's capable of bearing the responsibility that comes with being a franchise's go-to guy. When you couple Irving's quest for individual glory with the fact that he'll have to go through his old team (and LeBron James) to climb the mountaintop, it's obvious no move was bigger this offseason.