The Cavaliers had little leverage in the Kyrie Irving trade after he made it clear he wanted out in early July. But despite everyone knowing Irving was going to be moved, the Cavaliers still managed to haul in a big return. By trading Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first-round pick, and Ante Zizic, the Cavaliers are still ready to win now, but have also improved their team for the future.
The Cavs’ front office maintained that if they couldn’t make things work with Irving, they wanted veterans who could contribute now, prospects for the future, and a good draft pick in return. They managed to check off every single item on their list. And they managed to pull that off in a market where teams have been hesitant to trade for star players.
Cleveland gets an all-star to help right now
While leading the Celtics to the No. 1 seed in the East last season, Thomas was one of the best players at his position. He was the second-leading scorer in the league last season with 28.3 points per game and led the league in fourth-quarter scoring while maintaining a 63 percent true shooting mark.
Thomas may be 29 years old and only 5’9 at best, but his production over the last few years speaks for itself. He’s a good player the Cavaliers could build around moving forward should both sides agree on a long-term commitment.
The Cavaliers will have to back up the armored truck to keep Thomas, like the Celtics were supposed to before trading him. Then, Cleveland will have a year to see how he meshes with LeBron James before deciding what to do next.
Thomas might be older than Irving, but he’s still ready to compete at an all-star level right now. Plus, Kevin Love is still on the roster.
Crowder is also one of the best 3-and-D wing players. He’s a great catch-and-shoot player who should thrive playing next to James and Thomas. Crowder’s versatility is his biggest asset; he’ll allow James to shift to a small-ball power forward on offense while he guards the opposing four on defense.
Though they lost a great player, the Cavs are deeper now than they were before. This trade should put them right back at the top of the conference.
The Cavs are also building toward their future
Cleveland could be without James after next season, and they are now better prepared for that scenario. By acquiring Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick in 2018, they have a shot at having a top pick in a two-player draft with Michael Porter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III.
Those two could both be generational talents at their positions. Even if James and Thomas leave, the Cavs still have the opportunity to snag a new foundational piece as they move into the future.
And on top of that, the Cavs have a new prospect in Ante Zizic, a 6’11, 240-pound center who was one of the best players in the Adriatic Basketball Association last year. Nikola Jokic and Dario Saric are both products of that league and are two of the better young prospects in the league today.
The deal is surprising because we don’t see this anymore
This was a great haul for Cleveland, but it came out of nowhere. The Celtics weren’t originally reported to be on Irving’s preferred list of teams. Boston also already had an all-star point guard. Even though they had the assets to get the deal done, it seemed like a long shot.
Plus, the trade value of superstars around the league seems to be diminishing. With the Warriors running through the league, teams haven’t been willing to give up major future assets for a chance to snag a star right now.
The Indiana Pacers were criticized for trading Paul George for pennies on the dollar before the 2017 NBA Draft. The Chicago Bulls didn’t do much better with Butler. The Sacramento Kings could only manage a similarly underwhelming haul for DeMarcus Cousins in February after the NBA All-Star Game.
Like Butler and Cousins, Irving had two years left on his deal. Unlike the Bulls and Kings, the Cavs managed to find legitimate suitors for their eager-to-depart star and eventually landed an all-star and a high, unprotected pick in return.
No matter how it turns out for Cleveland in the future, this trade was a win in the moment. Irving wanted out, and the team got exactly what it wanted out of the deal for today and the future. Now it’s up to them to make it work.