Well, that happened. On Tuesday evening, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded disgruntled All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to the conference-rival Boston Celtics in exchange for a package including fellow All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
It is one of the biggest trades in modern NBA history and it also shakes up the foundation of the Association heading into the 2017-18 season. Who benefited the most by this trade? Where do the top teams in the NBA now stand?
Here’s a look at the top-16 teams in the NBA following the deal that sent Irving to Boston.
16. Philadelphia 76ers
This is based more on projection than anything else. To conclude that Philadelphia might have the most-talented young roster in the NBA wouldn’t be too controversial. It’s now all about putting all that talent together on the court and earning a playoff spot. Philadelphia added rookie No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and veteran sharpshooter J.J. Redick to the mix during the summer. This was a prime example of the Sixers addressing major issues in the backcourt.
When it comes to the team’s frontcourt, it’s absolutely loaded. Ben Simmons will be ready for the start of the regular season. The 2016 No. 1 overall pick missed his entire rookie campaign to injury. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid has proven himself to be a dominant force when on the court. The 23-year-old center averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in just over 25 minutes per game in his first NBA action last year. If this team stays healthy, it will almost definitely battle it out for a bottom two playoff spot back east.
15. New Orleans Pelicans
We’re not too sure if the DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis project is going to work out in New Orleans. The two were a bit awkward on the court with one another after Cousins was acquired from Sacramento in February. But they remain two of the best big men in the entire game. Add in the Pelicans’ decision to re-sign Jrue Holiday to an expensive contract, and there’s some help in the backcourt.
Adding more intrigue here, the Pelicans picked up a pass-first point guard in Rajon Rondo to man the point. That pushes Holiday to the two, which will create major mismatches for opponents this season. There’s definitely a lot to like about the Pelicans right now.
14. Los Angeles Clippers
Losing J.J. Redick and Chris Paul was most definitely not a good thing for this Southern California-based franchise. In reality, the Clippers are no longer a lock to even make the playoffs. That’s why it was so weird to see the team dole out a combined $235 million to re-sign an injury plagued Blake Griffin and bring Danilo Gallinari on from the Denver Nuggets. Is this team anywhere near close to competing with the big boys out West? We most definitely don’t think so. Circling the wagons, indeed.
13. Miami Heat
Without a doubt, Miami overpaid big time for James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk and to retain Dion Waiters. The three came in at a combined cost of $145.3 million. That’s a lot of cash for three role players. With that said, Miami had the money to spend and did add to an already solid nucleus.
Remember, the Heat finished last season winning 30 of their final 41 games. With Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside on board, we’re expecting them to become a playoff team in 2017-18.
12. Milwaukee Bucks
It really is all about Giannis in Milwaukee. Still only 22 years old, Antetokounmpo is coming off a stellar performance that saw him average 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists while shooting 52 percent from the field. It’s not a stretch to say that he will be among the top-five players in the Association this season.
Antetokounmpo also has a strong supporting cast in the form of 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon as well as high-scoring young wing Khris Middleton. The 26-year-old forward averaged 18.2 points in 2015-16 before seeing injuries curtail the start of last season. There’s definitely a whole lot to like about this squad.
11. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Outside of Houston and Golden State, this is the best backcourt in the NBA. The issue here is that Portland didn’t do a whole lot to help the two out in the past. Instead, it handed out horrendous contracts to the like of Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Meyers Leonard.
We’re talking $225 million between the four. The good news here is that Portland was able to pretty much sell off Crabbe’s contract to Brooklyn. And with Jusuf Nurkic looking like a true star at center, this is most definitely a playoff team out west.
10. Denver Nuggets
Paul Millsap. That was a major get for a Nuggets team that’s clearly on the rise. The veteran averaged a career best 18.1 points to go with 7.7 rebounds en route to earning his fourth consecutive trip to the All-Star game for Atlanta last season.
He joins a tremendously strong young nucleus that includes second-year guard Jamal Murray and a 22-year-old All-Star caliber center in Nikola Jokic. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Denver earn a top-five seed out west in 2017-18.
9. Toronto Raptors
Circling the wagon. This is the term we used to describe the Clippers, and it remains true when discussing Toronto. Sure re-signing All-Star guard Kyle Lowry was a big deal. Add in DeMar DeRozan’s scoring ability (27.3 points per game last season), and the Raptors’ backcourt is stacked.
The problem here is that Toronto didn’t do anything to improve the rest of its roster. In fact, we could say the team regressed a ton during the summer. Super sub Cory Joseph was dealt to Indiana, while the Raptors also moved their best wing defender in DeMarre Carroll. Meanwhile, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson also departed in free agency. Look for multiple Eastern Conference teams to leapfrog the Raptors in 2017-18.
8. Washington Wizards
This one scribe really wanted to see Washington go up against the Cavaliers in the playoffs last year. It’s probably the worst matchup for LeBron James and Co. of any Eastern Conference contender. Obviously, that’s due to the presence of John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt. The two combined to average 46.2 points per game for a team that won 49 games last season.
The Wizards also have a nice little supporting cast with rising star Otto Porter, forward Markieff Morris and big-bodied center Marcin Gortat. Look for this squad to take the next step in 2017-18.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Whew. There’s really nothing to dislike about the Timberwolves’ summer. It started with the trade for former Chicago Bulls All-NBA performer Jimmy Butler to reunite with head coach Tom Thibodeau. Really, Butler is a top-five two-way player in today’s basketball world. He also provides a perimeter threat to go with the young tandem of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the latter of whom might already be the best center in the game.
If that weren’t enough, Minnesota signed All-Star Jeff Teague to replace an offensively-challenged Ricky Rubio at point. It also picked up a tough interior defender in the form of Taj Gibson. It’s not hyperbolic to believe Minnesota could be the Warriors’ biggest threat out west this season. It all depends on how everything comes together.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City absolutely pulled the wool over the heads of the Indiana Pacers in adding All-Star Paul George to team up with reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook. While not on the level of Kevin Durant, George will definitely act as a tremendous running partner for Russ, who was overused a great deal last season.
Picking up former Toronto Raptors power forward Patrick Patterson was also a boon for the Thunder. He’s an elite-level defender and will work wonders against the likes of Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap out west. While not true title contenders, there’s a lot to like here.
5. Houston Rockets
First off, it must be noted that Houston still doesn’t match up well against the Warriors. Simply put, back-court centric teams are not going to outplay Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. It’s just not going to happen. But for the Rockets to be able to add Chris Paul to the mix, the team pretty much concluded that it’s in this for the short run. A James Harden and Chris Paul backcourt could be lethal.
It would also be utterly ridiculous to ignore the fact that Carmelo Anthony might very well be calling Houston home by the start of the regular season. If that were to happen, maybe this team leapfrogs the state-rival San Antonio Spurs.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
Is Isaiah Thomas as good as Kyrie Irving? Offensively, we would like to believe so. But he’s also a much different player. A true shoot-first point guard teaming up with LeBron James could cause some issues on the court. It’s also important to note that Thomas has not fully recovered from the hip injury he suffered during last season’s playoffs.
The larger picture here is questionable. Is James prepared to bolt from Cleveland following this season? How will Derrick Rose work as primarily a backup? Did Cleveland regress by granting Irving’s wish of a trade? And more than anything, did this team even narrow the gap between itself and the Warriors? Those are a whole heck of a lot of questions for the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs.
3. San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio did everything possible to land another star to team up with Kawhi Leonard. It started with mutual interest between the Spurs and Chris Paul. When that didn’t come to fruition, the Spurs were mentioned as a potential landing spot for Paul George. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Instead, Gregg Popovich and Co. settled for one of the most one-dimensional players in the NBA in the form of the injury-plagued Rudy Gay. This most definitely doesn’t narrow the gap between the Spurs and Warriors.
Though, we still have to remember that the Spurs were up by 20-plus points in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against those Warriors before Leonard went down to injury. Surely, Leonard’s presence would have made for a more competitive series there. As it stands, San Antonio remains the biggest threat to Golden State out west.
2. Boston Celtics
Having Boston ahead of Cleveland isn’t as much about the Kyrie Irving trade. This one scribe is not a huge fan of it from the Celtics’ perspective. But in a vacuum, it probably did narrow the gap between the Celtics and Cavaliers.
The more prevalent point here is that Boston upgraded at other areas. Gordon Hayward is going to be a studly running partner for Irving — hopefully for many years. Here’s a guy that’s improved each season he’s been in the NBA. Boston was also able to keep stud defender Marcus Smart as it purged some key components to make room for Hayward. Add in the presence of second-year star Jaylen Brown and rookie No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum, and the Celtics are absolutely stacked.
1. Golden State Warriors
Was there really any question here? As long as the core components from last season’s historical title team remain healthy in 2017-18, the Warriors will be repeating as champs next June. That was made possible by yet another brilliant offseason from general manager Bob Myers. Not only did Golden State re-sign two-time MVP Stephen Curry, reigning NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant took less in order to help the team re-sign both Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
If this weren’t enough, Golden State was also able to retain veterans David West, JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia. It also signed sharpshooting wing Nick Young on an incredibly team-friendly contract. Look for the Warriors to be historically dominant again in 2017-18. And the Irving trade did absolutely nothing to change that.