The 2017 Off-Season is the gift that keeps giving. This year has been absolutely insane; we’ve seen CP3 team up with James Harden in Houston, Paul George with Russell Westbrook in OKC, and Jimmy Buckets with Karl-Anthony Towns in the Twin Cities. The GM’s are as bold and ambitious now as they’ve ever been in their acquisition of top NBA talent. Last night we got the news that Kyrie Irving had been traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 unprotected first round pick. So this begs the question- who are the winners and who are the losers here?
To my mind, this trade suits both franchises- but I’d rather be a Celtics fan right now. Danny Ainge has done a fantastic job as an executive in stockpiling young talent and shrewdly ensuring that the franchise is able not just to compete right now, but in the years to come. With Kyrie Irving they are getting a young PG who already has the mental fortitude to win a championship, and who is locked down for them for the next two years. And let’s not forget that Ainge has already acquired Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz. The prospect of seeing how Irving and Hayward’s partnership develops is mouth-watering to any basketball fan. It’s hard for me not to see the Celtics as the winners here because I think those two will complement each other much more naturally and effectually than Lebron and I.T.
However, the Cavs’ front office have done a great job here- they had a situation wherein one of their star players wanted to leave and a small likelihood of a quality replacement. The trade is a win-win, given the assets that are coming the Cavs’ way, but I think the continued success of the Celtics is more certain than that of the Cavs. As we all know, Lebron’s contract is up at the end of next season and the likelihood that he will resign with Cleveland is anything but certain. And with I.T they are getting a contract that only runs a year, as they then inherit Ainge’s headache of how to pay him. I do think that this trade is a win for Cleveland- I just think it is less certain how fruitful it will be. On the one hand, they are sure to compete for another NBA championship this season, and they were able to replace Irving with a PG just as good, albeit different. On the other hand, they could lose both Lebron and I.T next summer. Getting rid of these players does give them great cap space to work with and rebuild, as well as having a pick from the Nets that is likely to be very high, but this is all potential. Irving is not potential- he’s a proven star, and that’s why I think in the context of looking at the long-term, the Celtics seemingly have the more stable situation.
The best thing about this whole deal is that the Celtics and the Cavs meet in Cleveland on October 17th for the opening game of the season. I will say that right now, I would still take the Cavs over the Celtics in a seven-game series. The Cavs have the best player in the world in Lebron James, and his appetite for success far surpasses any player in the league. Lebron is unique insofar as you get the sense that he is already playing with his legacy in mind. He is absolutely relentless, merciless, and unstoppable as a defensive match-up in playoff games, because he is constantly playing as if his legacy is on the line. And the addition of I.T and Crowder will only help him. Crowder is a straight-up enforcer who can help protect Lebron as well as shoot nicely from the corner. He’s a tough athlete and a strong rebounder, and a great acquisition. He’s also a Marquette boy, and even though the Badgers are my main team I do have a soft spot for the Golden Eagles, so I want to give them a shout-out! Then there’s Isaiah. Even though I’m yet to be convinced of his ability to gel with Lebron, I love I.T for the passion and heart he plays with. He’s one of my favorite players in the league simply because of his fearlessness. He is superior to Irving as a pure scorer and averaged better stats last season. However Irving is young, and overall perhaps the more cultured player, who we know has a clutch shot and the nastiest handles in the game. My only doubts about Isaiah’s ability to mesh with Lebron come from the fact that I.T thrived in being the top dog in Boston, enjoying lots of possessions and putting the team on his back with his ISO plays in the fourth quarter. The Cavs will have to find a way to get the best out of Isaiah’s scoring ability whilst also remembering that as the greatest player in the NBA, Lebron will demand a lot of possessions himself. In the playoffs we saw how often Lebron acted as a Point-Forward, taking the ball up the court and making plays with his phenomenal passing ability. I’m not saying it can’t work, I’m just saying I’m concerned about whether you can really get the best out of the both of them at the same time.
Lastly, I think it remains to be seen whether I.T is a winner or a loser in this trade. I think he might feel a little taken aback at being abandoned by the Celtics after giving so much to that franchise and helping them acquire free agents. He had a promising future there and seemed to be the figurehead of a dynasty to come. However, he is now joining Lebron in Cleveland and it is a known fact that every player who Lebron plays with gets taken on a ride. A ride to the Finals. Before Lebron returned to the Cavs, they weren’t going anywhere with just Irving. As great as Irving is, it was Lebron that ensured their 3 consecutive trips to the Finals. However, if Lebron ends up going to the Western Conference, perhaps joining Lonzo Ball’s Lakers, next summer, then I.T’s future is very uncertain.
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