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The Basketball Gods are in the Details: An Analysis of the Cavaliers/Celtics Trade



It has been a relatively quiet August, even for an NBA offseason. That all changed last night, when it was reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers had traded disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for a neat little package of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 unprotected Brooklyn Nets first round pick.

Just by reading that brief summary, one would think the Cavs are getting the better end of the deal. Though perhaps initially true, this trade is multi-layered in its complexity, making it almost impossible to truly decide who’s come out on top.

Before diving in, it’s imperative for us to establish that this is not a bad trade for anyone. There are significant pros for both teams, some of which might not reveal themselves for several months. Got it, reactionary NBA Twitter? Now, let’s go deep.

On Isaiah vs Kyrie:

Statistically, the two are comparable. Last season, Kyrie was averaging 25.2 points per game to IT’s 28.9. Kyrie shot 40 per cent from the three-point line, while Thomas hit 37.9 per cent of his threes.

It’s unorthodox to trade players that read so similarly on paper. Irving and Thomas are the first players in NBA history who averaged over 25 points the previous season to ever be traded for each other. The nuances of this are truly in the details.

The chances of the Celtics backing up the Brinks truck for Thomas, who turned 28 in February, was unlikely. The point guard had essentially announced that he would be seeking the max upon his contract ending and it just didn’t make sense to award it to him. Age is a huge factor in that, as well as the hip injury that he struggled with through the playoffs. It’s too tough to say if IT would’ve aged well in Boston, and frankly, I don’t even want to entertain the concept. The emotional ramifications of trading a player like Isaiah has already reduced half the Boston fanbase to tears, myself included.

In mourning the loss of Thomas, he is still one of the better point guards and passers in the league. He’ll work well with LeBron and Kevin Love, despite his defensive weaknesses. A huge factor will be his health going forward. The hip injury he struggled with through the playoffs played a role in the trade and could turn into a major downside for the Cavs if it continues. Should he stay healthy, don’t expect the Cavs to be worse this season. They’re probably still a lock for The Finals.

Irving solves the issue of youth and also gives the Celtics a valuable weapon who can score off the dribble at will. Irving will get a chance to be a true leader on offense, instead of being overshadowed by LeBron. If Brad Stevens can get him to buy into the system, Kyrie will be immensely dangerous, especially with Gordon Hayward spotting up on the perimeter and Al Horford on the block. Just typing that gives me chills.

The only issue with Irving is why he left Cleveland. His desire to be the go-to guy could clash immensely with the team-first culture that the Celtics have strived to build. Had Boston retained their motley crew of dependable role players, Kyrie would’ve gotten exactly the kind of situation he wanted. Instead, Boston traded guys like Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, and signed another superstar in Gordon Hayward. The potential for Kyrie is so high, but it will depend on how he feels about sharing the spotlight with Hayward. In this case, I feel as if Brad Stevens will play a huge role in maintaining the identity of his team, which is virtually unrecognizable from last season.

On Crowder & Zizic:

Losing Jae Crowder is a huge loss for the Cs. Crowder was arguably the most reliable of the Celtics role players, providing a tenacious defensive presence on the wing and hitting 40 per cent of his threes. His passion and energy was a huge part of the Celtics culture and the idea of him and Tristan Thompson on the same team is exciting. Both players are physical presences that allow an aging LeBron a bit of a break, while still giving him options both on the block and from the perimeter.

Speaking of physical, Ante Zizic will also be an interesting prospect to watch as he goes into his first NBA season. It’s almost impossible to decide if he’s a true asset yet, but he has the potential to do some damage as a rookie. He looked hungry in Summer League and the Cavs could definitely use another big who isn’t afraid to be a presence in the post. Too soon to say, but Zizic could definitely turn into an unexpected bonus for the Cavs.

On the Pick:

Personally, I was attached to this pick. The 2018 Nets first round pick is unprotected and almost 110 per cent guarantees its owner a talented player. The class of 2018 is crazy. Marvin Bagley and Canadian wunderkind R.J. Barrett have both reclassified, adding even more talent to an already stacked draft. There was a reason Danny Ainge clung so fiercely to this pick. Cleveland now has the opportunity to sustain their success, while building for a potentially LeBron-less future.

Final Thoughts:

Cleveland has done an admirable job here considering that a month ago they were without a GM. They will do well in the Eastern Conference this year, but that could be affected by Thomas’ health. Ultimately, they’ve begun to set themselves up for the future without blowing it up entirely.

When it comes to the Celtics, “young” is the key word here. Expect Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to stir up buzz and mesh well with their older counterparts. Marcus Morris is a valuable addition that people seem to have forgotten about. The Cavs may be building for the future, but the Celtics have already built theirs. Now, it’s just a matter of watching it all play out.

Maddy is a Canadian sports media student who does not like the Raptors. Growing up in a hockey family, she decided to be rebellious and play basketball. She lives in Toronto and considers herself the defensive specialist of her pick-up league. When not writing, she does colour commentary for the Ryerson University women's team.

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1 Comment

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