The NBA offseason has become a yearly reality show and this year has lived up to that reputation.
The first act was strong, with free agency including Gordon Hayward’s “should I or shouldn’t I” affair with Utah and Boston and the NBA Draft being as fascinating as any in recent memory.
The second act was something of an intermission and brought us back to the days of Lockout-past, with names ranging from LeBron James and Hoodie Melo to OJ Mayo and Cleanthony Early taking the internet over with a series of star-studded pickup games in gyms around the country.
But this third act? Oh, what a finale!
Kyrie Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick on Tuesday evening, only a few weeks after his demand for a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers became public.
The move sets the stage for a thrilling final third to the offseason, as well as having far reaching consequences for this season and beyond. Luckily, our writers are here to help break it down and make sense of it all!
- Sean Linhares – @Linhares_Sean
- Martin Soaries – @Marsoaries
- B.J. Boyer – @wcboyer24
- Felix John-Baptiste- @TwoSmooth2
- Kyle Allan – @kallan441
1. Who Won – Boston or Cleveland?
Sean: I think it’s pretty clear that this is a big win for Cleveland. At this point, new Cavs general manager Koby Altman has to be focused on two things – beating Golden State and keeping LeBron James. This accomplishes both of those feats.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the trade is a loss for Boston. It’s just not as much of a win. Kyrie is a top-five point guard and can simply do things that Isaiah Thomas can’t due to height restrictions, plus is still only 25 years old compared to the soon-to-be 30-year-old Thomas. Still, though, Brooklyn’s pick is a tough loss to swallow and at the end of the day, does anyone really feel like this moves the needle in an Eastern Conference Finals?
But we’ll get to that soon.
Soaries: I see it as a win for both teams in different ways. I think that’s why it got done. In the short-term, I see it as more of a win for Boston. Going from Isaiah Thomas to Kyrie Irving, essentially, isn’t that much of a transition, depending who you talk to. But the way I see it, Irving along with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford as the Celtics core now gives them a legitimate shot at winning the East.
Cleveland’s win comes in one sense because while they lost their exciting, explosive scorer at point guard, they replaced him with another. Again, not too much of a transition. In the short-term plans of needing to compete with Golden State, I see the acquisition of Jae Crowder as the bigger win. He’s another tweener forward who can stretch the floor and help with those gaudy wing matchups defensively. The 2018 first-round pick can turn into a big win for Cleveland in the long-term.
Boyer: This trade is a win for both teams as it currently stands, but I think we are years away from being able to thoroughly evaluate this swap. There are so many factors that hinge on one of these teams emerging as the clear winner from this deal: does LeBron James re-sign with the Cavaliers after this season? Will Cleveland be willing to hurl the max at Isaiah Thomas, who, as Sean mentioned, is inching closer to his 30’s and is at a huge disadvantage with his size? Is Kyrie Irving willing to commit to the Celtics long-term, and how much will they rue relinquishing that pick to the Cavs, one that’s assured to be in the top-five with the horrid season the Brooklyn Nets are slated to have.
If I were forced to, I’d give the nod to Cleveland as of right now. They remain in a prime position to still be Eastern Conference supremacists while positioning themselves to either: A.) Flip that Nets pick to aid LeBron in title chasing as his career dwindles down or B.) Get a head start on a major rebuild if James does decide to depart next summer.
Allan: I would say Cleveland won this trade. It is tough to really think about who won the trade because it was truly a win-win for both sides. The problem is that this move basically made a team that Boston has to hurdle over, set for their future. The Cavaliers now have the potential of a very good lottery pick with the Nets pick in 2018. If it turns out to be a generational talent from the ’18 draft, will Boston regret this? We’ll have to see.
John-Baptiste: I’m not sure I think either team won, in the immediate future that is. To me as far as next season goes, both teams made lateral moves. I consider when teams make a move to get better, it puts them in position to outdo their previous season. It seems like Cleveland will eliminate Boston again, maybe in six games this time. And Cleveland will eventually lose to the Warriors again in the Finals. Perhaps even in five games again.
The deal does work in theory though. The Celtics get a young Kyrie locked in for at least two years and can build around him for the future. The Cavs get what could potentially be the top pick in next years draft. The future might be bright, but next year we may be seeing the same end result.
2. Does this significantly – if at all – change Cleveland’s chances of beating Golden State in the Finals?
Sean: I don’t know if it’s a major swing, but the move definitely gives the Cavs better odds at taking the Warriors down in a Finals series.
Cleveland really didn’t have any premier perimeter defenders last season behind LeBron, forcing him to pretty much pick up the slack for everyone – an impossible task against Golden State’s historically great offense. Iman Shumpert and JR Smith are both far cries from the duo that harassed the Dubs in the 2016 Finals, and Cleveland needed someone on the wing that could help take the load off LeBron’s shoulders on the defensive end. Enter Jae Crowder.
Crowder probably isn’t an elite defender at this point in his career, but he’s still as good an all-around wing as you’re going to find, the perfect fit as someone that can guard KD for a few possessions and let James catch his breath on… former All-NBA Klay Thompson? Geez, the Warriors just don’t let up.
Soaries: I don’t think their chances have changed that much. As I said, the biggest win for Cleveland in this trade is Jae Crowder because he specifically helps against Golden State. That’s not to say that Isaiah Thomas can’t give the Warriors problems with his ability to score and probe in the lane, but Crowder adds what the Cavs needed even if they still had Irving.
While they were able to make an addition that does help them against Golden State, I still don’t see it significantly changing their ability to beat them in a series.
Boyer: Cleveland’s chances remain the same. Jae Crowder prevents LeBron from doing the absurd amount of defensive heavy lifting he had to do at times last season, but the fact remains this: the Cavs were ranked 22nd in defense in 2016-17, and this offseason they haven’t added enough plus defenders to change their fortunes on that side of the ball. Out of Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Crowder, only one of those players is recognized as a strong defender.
Expect Golden State to terrorize the likes of Rose and Thomas on defense, the latter who at least tries but remains at a huge disadvantage due to his size, particularly when screened.
Allan: I would say the chances for Cleveland remain the same, but they can really find out if they are capable defensively now. With the addition of Crowder, that really takes away the fact that LeBron has to be the guy that defends the ball the whole time. I think that they can be in trouble when it comes to any of their guards staying on Steph Curry.
John-Baptiste: This may ever so slightly change the Cavs’ odds of beating Golden State in the Finals. The Cavs acquired Jae Crowder in the trade who’s a bulldog on defense and doesn’t back down to anyone. What LeBron has lacked in his years back in Cleveland is another upper echelon wing defender. With these two side-by-side, they may be able to contain Golden State’s wings a little better than last season.
If Isaiah Thomas can force the Warriors to double him off the pick-and-roll then maybe we have something here. He’s a pesky little guy that last season was able to get to the front of the rim at will. The difference this time around is he’ll have LeBron to pass out of the double team to. If not, the Cavs are still in trouble. Defense is great but you still need buckets against that juggernaut out West.
3. Do the additions of Irving and Gordon Hayward this offseason give the Celtics enough talent to get past the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Sean: I just cannot fathom a world in which LeBron James allows Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics, his greatest team rival, to beat him in a seven-game series. That may be small-minded. In fact, I know it is. It’s wildly dismissive of me to take the core of Kyrie, Hayward, and Horford, as well as the supporting cast of Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and the only truly untradeable Celtic Terry Rozier, and just be like “nope.”
But that’s what I’m doing.
Does this set the Celtics up to be the ruler of the Eastern Conference if LeBron does head for Los Angeles or Houston next summer? Absolutely, and that’s the real genius of it for Danny Ainge and Boston.
If James does go West, the Celtics will have a pipeline to the Finals for at least a few seasons.
In the case James stays in Cleveland, Boston will still be able to get to the Conference Finals until the James-era inevitably comes to an end and they can compete for a title with a still-prime Kyrie.
Until LeBron is either living in LA full time or truly out of his prime though, Celtics fans shouldn’t be expecting any sort of Finals appearance, or even a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Soaries: Yes, they do. That’s not a prediction to say that they will, I’m just saying they have enough talent. LeBron is still the elephant in the room. He can still overpower these Celtics with his individual greatness. But Boston’s weaponry is now legitimate (don’t forget about Marcus Morris) and talent-wise they can finally stack up — Irving/Hayward/Horford against Thomas/LBJ/Love is much more favorable than Thomas/Crowder/Horford going against Irving/LBJ/Love.
Boyer: No. While the Celtics have a roster oozing with talent and potential, I don’t see them beating the Cavaliers in a seven-game series to represent the East in the NBA Finals. LeBron is motivated enough as is, and if he sees Kyrie Irving and his career-long rival Boston Celtics standing in the way of another appearance, something tells me that only ups the ante for James, who has reportedly given off an aura of “obsessiveness” during his summer training sessions.
Allan: No I don’t see that, and that is why I am hesitant to say that Boston won this deal. If Kyrie had gone elsewhere, the Celtics could have been at an advantage for their future with still having the option of using that Nets pick. I think that building through the draft is key to sustainability and even though Boston has started to do that, I think the ’18 Nets pick was going to be the cream of the crop.
John-Baptiste: Pump the brakes here. Beating LeBron James hasn’t so much been about talent as it’s been about the style of play. We’ve seen teams with less talent beat a LeBron James-led team before (re: 2011 Mavericks). It remains to be seen how the new look Celtics will mesh with one another but it will all depend on how they move the ball. If it sticks, they have no chance. However, if they build some chemistry and cohesion, then they just might have the mix of players to have a fighter;s punch. Until then, Cavs in 6.
4. Does this have a positive or negative impact on the chances of LeBron leaving Cleveland next summer?
Sean: It really depends on two things- how much faith you have in Chris Sheridan’s report that James is “100 percent” leaving Cleveland next summer and how bad the Nets are.
If LeBron has truly made up his mind and doesn’t change his mind over the next 10 months, and I find that hard to really believe, then I guess you have your answer and this trade has no impact whatsoever. But on the off-chance that LeBron is indeed a human and is therefore subject to change his mind on a major life decision, it really comes down to the Brooklyn pick.
Sure, Isaiah Thomas is a premier scorer and Crowder will lessen the load on James, but IT will be 30-years-old next summer and Crowder probably isn’t enough to drastically sway LeBron’s mind. But if the Nets pick materializes into, let’s say, Duke prospect Marvin Bagley III?
Obviously, this is all reckless speculation. But one would have to think that James would at least toy with the idea of staying in Cleveland to play with Thomas, Crowder, Kevin Love and Bagley.
Soaries: Many people feel like this is the nail in the coffin on LeBron definitely leaving next summer. I don’t think that could be set in stone right now, but I’d say things do look like they’re moving in that direction. Isaiah Thomas has one year on his current contract, so he could be out next summer if he wants to. The way things pan out for the Cavs this season will give us a better perspective on what LeBron might be looking to do.
Boyer: I think the impact is pretty neutral as of right now. One thing about LeBron is that he’s very meticulous and calculated in all of his dealings, whether they be on the court or off. I believe reports that he already has his mind made up may contain a sliver of truth, but the business of basketball is too unpredictable to consider it a foregone conclusion.
Allan: I say things are pretty steady after this trade because unless the results changes this year, LeBron will really want to consider leaving. He may also find out how much say he has in the next offseason for Cleveland because of where that draft pick falls, or where they can trade the pick for a star.
John-Baptiste: I don’t think the trade has as much of an impact on LeBron staying overall as winning a championship would. If LeBron pulls it off this year, I can see him trying to re-up with the same crew, use the Nets’ pick to either draft a young talent, or trade it for another superstar to make another run. If they lose in the same, or similar fashion in the Finals again, I’m not sure he gives Cleveland another thought given the rumors out there.
5. Will Cleveland continue to be active in the trade market this offseason, particularly regarding Carmelo Anthony?
Sean: The idea of a Kevin Love-Brooklyn pick might be tempting for Altman and company, but ultimately I think they’ll exercise some patience and see how this new core gels, as well as waiting to see the actual value of the Nets pick. If they do make a Love-pick deal, I don’t think it will be until later in the season.
Soaries: It doesn’t seem like Carmelo is a prime target for them as of yet. We might see them try some kind of move if they’re not where they want to be around the trade deadline. That could mean trying to somehow swing for Carmelo Anthony if they reach that point of desperation.
Boyer: I think things on the Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland front are dead as of right now, but it wouldn’t shock me if they heated back up once the season begins to dance along. I believe Dwyane Wade donning a Cavaliers jersey in the very near future is much more feasible, as there has reportedly been a fair amount of discord between Wade and the Chicago Bulls’ brass/their younger players. A buyout seems imminent for D-Wade, and what better place for the three-time champion to land than in The Land to hunt for a championship with The King and Co.
Allan: I don’t see anything happening unless it’s during the season and the Cavaliers clearly need another offensive weapon. I just am not sure how he would fit, especially after the Cavaliers now taking Crowder from the Celtics. As stated by B.J. Boyer above me, I think a better fit would be a player like Dwyane Wade.
John-Baptiste: Who knows what Cleveland wants to do. They wanted a Melo-Kyrie swap but only if they could’ve landed Porzingis. Something tells me the only way Cleveland trades for Melo is if they can somehow hoodwink the Knicks. Outside of that, we probably won’t see Melo in a Cavs uniform, unless his buddy D-Wade joins the crew and THEN convinces him otherwise about that no trade clause.