Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas, two of the top three point guards in the Eastern Conference, are changing teams. In a stunning blockbuster deal, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics have agreed to trade the two All-Star point guards, according to Yahoo’s Shams Charania.
About a month ago, it was reported that Irving had requested a trade from the Cavaliers, apparently not happy coexisting with LeBron James, among other complaints. It seemed clear that the Cavaliers would have to deal Irving, but rumors had centered on other teams — not Boston — until Tuesday evening.
Isaiah Thomas was Boston’s best player last season, making the All-NBA Second Team and finishing fifth overall in MVP voting. He and Irving aren’t too dissimilar, though, even if Irving didn’t boast those same accolades last season. Both are score-first point guards; Irving scored 25.2 points per game while Thomas averaged just under 29 as a focal point in the Boston offense, and both shot around 47 percent from the field.
Here are the exact terms of the trade:
- CLEVELAND RECEIVES: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick (owned by Boston)
- BOSTON RECEIVES: Kyrie Irving
There are differences between the two players, of course, but their overall games are strikingly similar. That’s the biggest takeaway from the trade stunner from a league that keeps us watching all 12 months of the year.
The Celtics issued a press release after the trade was made official where Celtics President Danny Ainge spoke on the acquisition of Kyrie Irving.
“Kyrie is one of the best scorers in the NBA. He has proven that on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, the last three years. He’s been an NBA Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and a four-time All-Star. For all he’s accomplished, we think his best years are ahead of him.
Ainge also spoke about Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder and their impact on the Celtics organization.
“Isaiah embodied what it meant to be a Celtic. He captured fans’ hearts not only with his spirit, but his personality. Jae’s toughness was contagious for our team. He improved his skills each year, but it’s his energy and fight that will be remembered. We wish them and their families the very best.”
Why the Cavaliers made this trade
The moment it was known that Irving demanded a trade, Cleveland’s hands were tied. On one hand, they had a tradable asset still only 25 with two years left on his deal — which would normally be a piece you’d value like a chess queen. But with the entire league knowing that the Cavaliers would have to trade him, his value depreciated.
Still, getting back a player as good as Thomas? It’s hard to say if Cleveland even expected that. It was reported that they wanted one budding young player, one solid veteran, and a first-round draft pick. A Thomas, Crowder, and Zizic trio isn’t quite that, but Thomas is a star, Crowder is the said veteran, and Zizic is basically a first rounder, preparing for his rookie year in the league. On top of that, the Celtics get a first rounder that could end up extremely high in the lottery. That’s an offer that’s hard to compete with.
Cleveland’s future is in the air. Rumors keep swirling that LeBron James could leave the Cavaliers next summer when he becomes a free agent. Maybe he’ll go to Los Angeles; maybe somewhere else to gang up with his Banana Boat friends. But it’s too soon to rule out a return to his hometown, and Cleveland maybe just got better in the short-term — if Thomas and Irving are similar players, then adding a veteran as solid as Crowder clearly gives the Cavaliers the edge.
Irving is clearly the better and younger long-term prospect, and he would have posted stats similar to Thomas if he had the same free rein in a Brad Stevens-coached offense. But the Cavaliers, at the very least, essentially got the stash they desired when they set out to trade Irving. That’s all they really could ask.
Why the Celtics made this trade
Isaiah Thomas — bless him — is a Celtics legend. He also stunts just how far the team can climb.
Here’s the argument, if you want to read a longer version of it. In short: Thomas is an incredible player deserving of every accolade he received last season, but he’s also 5’9. That’s something he can never change, and in the playoffs, his defense is particularly exposed. He’s always the worst defender on the court — through no fault of his own — and it’s sadly something that will hold back any team that strives to compete for championships. That’s the leap that Boston, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last year that was unceremoniously ousted by Cleveland, is trying to make.
Another concern was Thomas’ hip injury that ended his season early last year. It apparently may keep him out to begin the season.
Irving is younger and he’s under team control for two years, not one like Thomas. He’s taller. He isn’t a good defender, but he’s not on Thomas’ black hole level. Over the next five years, he should have a better career. That’s what Boston is betting on.
It’s almost unheard of that two of the best teams in the same conference would make such a blockbuster swap. But here we are, and honestly, it makes sense for both sides. Maybe Boston gave up too much, and maybe the Cleveland team combusts next summer anyway. But for now, this is as much as each front office could do.