Everyone and their mother knew the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to be forced to trade Kyrie Irving prior to the start of the 2017-18 NBA regular season. Once Irving’s trade request was made public, any real value he might have brought back in a deal seemed to be marginalized.
That’s until the Boston Celtics — desperate to prove themselves among the game’s best organizations — pulled off a whopper of a deal. The team sent All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, solid two-way wing Jae Crowder, 2016 first-round pick Ante Zizic and next year’s first-round selection (from Brooklyn) for Irving (more on that here).
Talk about an abject failure for a Celtics general manager in Danny Ainge who will now be defined by this blockbuster trade.
There’s so many levels to look at here, most of them linking Ainge to one of the worst trades in recent Association history.
First off, there’s an argument to be made for Thomas being a better all-around player than Irving. This isn’t a simple overreaction based on recency bias. Instead, it’s looking at the totality of their games.
Last season saw Thomas average 28.9 points and 5.9 assists while shooting at a 46 percent from the field. He also finished with an absurd 26.5 PER and a 12.5 wins share. Meanwhile, Irving averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists. He also added a 23.0 PER and 8.9 wins share. Numbers may lie, but that’s definitely a close comparison right there.
So if it were Irving for Thomas straight up, this deal might make sense for Boston. That’s magnified by the fact that Thomas himself is set to become a free agent after the 2017-18 campaign and Irving is signed on for two more seasons.
But Boston decided Irving was that one difference maker the team needed to surpass Cleveland in the Eastern Conference and likely take on the Golden State Warriors in next June’s NBA Finals. That’s fine.
What isn’t fine here is that the Celtics and Ainge dealt a whole heck of a lot more than just Thomas to bring Irving in.
Crowder, 27, has seen his game improve in each of his first five years in the NBA. This past season saw him average 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting at a 40 percent mark from three-point range. He was one of the few Celtics players outside of Thomas that could hit the perimeter shot on a consistent basis. He’s now in Cleveland.
More than that, the Celtics moved an unprotected first-round pick — originally from Brooklyn in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade — to acquire Irving. It’s a selection that Ainge has been hesitant to move in the past, especially with the Nets likely to be one of the worst teams in the NBA once again this upcoming season. In reality, that selection promises to fall within the first two or three picks in next year’s draft.
This is the very same draft class that has been hyped as one of the most-talented in recent Association history. With top recruit Marvin Bagley III having committed to Duke and pushing up his debut on the college floor to this fall, the Blue Devils themselves have two players that would have likely been top-three picks this past June. That also includes fellow forward Wendell Carter.
This doesn’t even take into account incoming Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who many believed would have been taken No. 1 overall in this year’s draft. That’s just how much experts love Porter Jr.
For a team that has in the past received criticism for holding on to its plethora of draft capital, the Celtics needed to make a move here. But in reality, we’re not too sure how much this trade moves the needle in the Eastern Conference.
Sure, Irving will be a tremendous one-two punch with the recently signed Gordon Hayward. Boston also didn’t have to part with youngsters Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum in this deal. That’s definitely a positive.
But going all in with Irving in an NBA landscape that has been dominated by LeBron James back east and the Golden State Warriors out west doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. That’s only magnified by the fact that Irving has yet to prove himself to be good enough to star on a contending team without King James. Short of that changing in 2017-18, this will go down as an absolutely disastrous deal from the Celtics’ perspective.