Breaking down every question that emerges after the Kyrie/IT4 Trade…
What are the trade details?
Boston receives: PG Kyrie Irving
Cleveland receives: PG Isaiah Thomas, SF Jae Crowder, C Ante Zizic, the unprotected 2018 first-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets, the 2020 second-round (originally Miami’s)
Is Isaiah Thomas healthy?
This is a huge question that remains to be answered fully. As of Saturday, August 26th the Cavaliers are still reviewing the details of the medical evaluation that was performed on Thursday of last week. The NBA protects the Cavaliers and would give them the ability to void the trade if it is determined that Thomas failed his medical evaluation, according to the NBA's collective bargaining appointment. Thomas hurt his hip initially in March of this year and then aggravated the injury during the playoffs where his last game was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston Celtics team specialist determined immediately after the season was ended that further surgery would not be necessary. To compensate for Thomas’s health, Boston agreed to send their 2020 second-round pick (originally Miami’s second-round pick).
How does this affect LeBron’s future in Cleveland?
This remains to be seen but it could be a significant influence on LeBron’s future in Cavaliers. We have seen him move before when he feels like the front office of the organization or not making enough moves for talent to satisfy LeBron’s vision of how a team should be constructed. The power struggle between the front office of Cleveland and LeBron James could very well rest in what happens in the 2018 pick. If LeBron decides to stay beyond this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, one could see where he will want more than just a say as to what happens with that 2018 pick. Logic would tell us that he’s going to want to trade that pick and get a star talent to win now. That could set up quite a bit of tension between LeBron and the front office as Cleveland would probably not be inclined to do so unless LeBron gives them a strong indication that he will sign an extension.
If you’re Cleveland, though, and LeBron leaves after this season, then you have put some hope in the franchise beyond LeBron. Albeit a slimmer of hope, hope nonetheless. You have an incredible and explosive point guard in Isaiah Thomas that you can build around, providing you sign him to a max deal and then you have some pieces with Crowder, a young center in Zizic and a potential top 5 draft pick plus the other existing pieces on the roster. The only situation that could spell disaster for Cleveland is that the Brooklyn pick may not be as high as we anticipate. At this point, they are not motivated to be bad. There is no scenario where ‘tanking’ this season would benefit Brooklyn. That scenario coupled with the fact that the Easter Conference is a lot weaker than it has been in the last two or three years (which is saying a lot) could add up to Brooklyn easily winning a few more games than any of us would anticipate and could easily fall out of the top three picks and end up somewhere between picks 6-10.
Who won this trade?
To be clear, this was an unusual NBA trade. Classically, for the last dozen years or so, NBA trades have featured two elements: 1) one team is positioning themselves for a serious championship run and 2) the other team has sent the message that they are completely rebuilding. This trade was unusual in that both teams did a trade that helps them now and down the road. However, it appears that the Cavaliers have completely won this trade. Completely. There is a case to be made that Isaiah Thomas (offensively) is a better player than Kyrie Irving. Kyrie has had the center stage longer than IT4 but when you put the statistics right next to each other, it’s hard to argue against IT4 being better than Kyrie. Sure, IT4 is only 5’9” but in every other category, he is superior. Don’t take my word for it. Look at the following 2016-2017 NBA regular season statistics:
Kyrie’s Points Per Game rank: 11th
IT4’s Points Per Game rank: 3rd
Kyrie’s Assists Per Game rank: 22nd
IT4’s Assists Per Game rank: 20th
Kyrie’s True Shooting Percentage: 48th
IT4’s True Shooting Percentage: 9th
Kyrie’s Player Efficiency Rating: 21st
IT4’s Player Efficiency Rating: 7th
Kyrie’s Win Shares: 29th
IT4’s Win Shares: 7th
Kyrie’s Offensive +/-: 15th
IT4’s Offensive +/-: 3rd
Kyrie’s Defensive +/-: 177th
IT4’s Offensive +/-: 192nd
In every offensive category IT4 is ahead of Kyrie Irving and defensively they are, essentially, a wash. Plus consider the other pieces involved in the trade. Cleveland receives SF Jae Crowder. Crowder helps their perimeter and wing defense considerably. This is something that the Cavaliers lacked sorely when they faced the Warriors in the finals last year. Crowder allows you to give LeBron a breather from having to defend the opponent's best player down the stretch. He can guard the wing players without having to have LeBron expend his energy on the defensive end. Plus, they receive C Ante Zizic, who is a complete throw in the dark. Boston, the last few years, have done a pretty good job in drafting talent so Zizic might have a significant bench role when the rotation tightens up during the playoffs. And to cap it all off, they receive the unprotected first-round 2018 pick from the Brooklyn Nets and a 2020 second-round pick that was originally owned by the Miami Heat.
To be true, it was a justifiable trade on both ends of the deal. Boston has a very formidable lineup that will compete for the #1 spot in the Eastern Conference. Furthermore, if Boston can sign Kyrie Irving after the two years left on their contract they have the core of a very talented team for a few years to come. However, there is a significant cost. The one thing they traded away on this deal can’t be seen on paper. They traded away their identity. No one will argue that IT4 was the absolute heart and soul of the gritty Celtics team and in this trade, they lose that identity. The additional players that were the heart and soul of the 2016-2017 Boston Celtics team are also gone. No longer will you see IT4, Jae Crowder or Avery Bradley in a Celtics uniform. Yes, they are left with a very talented team but head coach Brad Gilbert will spend part of the 2017-2017 finding their pulse and their identity.
The other scenario that could make this trade even more interesting mid-season is what the Cavaliers decide to do with the draft pick. There is a clear path that could land DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins on the Cavalier’s roster from New Orleans including pieces like Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and/or Jeff Green plus the unprotected 2018 first round pick.
Regardless, this trade shook up the Eastern Conference and proves to make this season more dramatic and interesting.
Oh, by the way, the first game of the NBA Regular Season?
October 17th featuring (who else) the Boston Celtics at the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Well done, NBA. Well done, indeed.