• Matt Chin

Celtics Trade For Kyrie Irving

The Boston Celtics agreed to send Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick in 2018 to Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving. Danny Ainge finally did it. After hoarding the Celtics’ future assets for what seemed like an entire lifetime, he cashed in for the 25-year-old 4-time all-star.

Thomas will be sent off after having the most historic and memorable scoring season in the history of the franchise. He became a revered athlete in Boston, earning love from fans by tirelessly recruiting players on social media, playing through countless injuries, and taking over close games in the fourth quarter. Losing IT will be a bittersweet emotional blow for Celtics fans, but Danny Ainge doesn’t operate with emotion. He stays true to his convictions and he isn’t afraid to make controversial decisions. He isn’t influenced by fans, or by the media, or by his ownership. That’s what makes him truly great.

Trading Thomas is a stunning development, and an indication that the Celtics were not going to offer a max salary contract in his age 29 season when he becomes a free agent next summer. Irving, 25, carries an extra year of team control on his contract, a factor that cannot be overlooked in today’s era of financially driven roster building. Acquiring an extra season of elite point guard play alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford is a major factor. Now, the decision about whether Thomas is a max salary player lands with Koby Altman in Cleveland. LeBron James will join Thomas in next July’s free agency, and James’ decision could ultimately determine whether the Cavs decide to hit reset and let Thomas go elsewhere.

The Celtics will also lose Jae Crowder, who had risen to become a model 3 and D wing in today’s NBA atmosphere. The Cavs desperately needed a player like Crowder, who will provide hardnosed and versatile defense. His switchability should boost the Cavs ability to rest LeBron James for short stints. After Ainge convinced the Mavs to “toss in” Crowder into the Rondo deal, his game flourished in Boston. His PER jumped from 11.2 in Dallas to 15.1 in Boston. His energy and tenacity will be dearly missed, but the Celtics already had a deep group of talent on the wing. His departure clears the way for Jayson Tatum and Semi Ojeleye to earn more minutes. Taytum and Jaylen Brown were reportedly made off limits in trade discussions, so the Celtics settled on sacrificing their final unprotected Nets pick.

Boston gave Cleveland a haul. Irving’s market was ice cold going into tonight. The market adjusted after Jimmy Butler and Paul George yielded less than fair market value. The Suns, Nuggets, and Wolves all showed interest in Irving’s services, but were unwilling to part ways with young cost controlled talent. The Irving rumors had been quiet for a few days, then the Celtics pounced. Only 48 minutes passed between a Shams Charania tweet that initially broke the story and another when the trade was finalized. Cleveland should be satisfied with their return, especially if they land the #1 overall pick.

According to ex-Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, the Celtics were one of Irving’s preferred destinations. Griffin added that Brad Stevens is one of the few coaches that Irving and his representatives wanted to target. Boston fulfills Kyrie’s desire to run his own team, and he’ll rid himself from LeBron’s dominating shadow. Irving will play alongside two of the quietest and most unselfish stars in the NBA in Hayward and Horford. The media won’t be asking Irving about whether one of them plays a father role in his life. Irving will be the face of the franchise. From a strategic point of view, Irving should be his prime in both the Hayward/Horford era and the Brown/Tatum era. He’s the present and the future.

Watching Irving dazzle the TD Garden crowd will be mesmerizing. Irving isn’t the most athletic player, but he makes up for it with polished scoring skills. His handle. His footwork. The way he uses the glass. His ambidexterity. It’s the complete offensive package. If the rumors of LeBron going to Los Angeles come to fruition or if Thomas’s hip does not recover as expected, Irving and Hayward could quickly become the best duo in the East.

This trade would never happened 10 years ago. Until recently, it was considered sacrilegious to trade a superstar within your own conference, let alone to your rival, who happens to be your biggest hurdle to make a run at the NBA Finals. Yet that scenario happened twice in this trade. The Celtics and Cavs remain the favorites, and their matchups are going to be must watch television. Just think about all of the compelling side plots. LeBron versus Kyrie. Isaiah versus the team that didn’t think he was a max player. Jae Crowder versus Hayward after Celtics fans cheered for Hayward when Utah visited the Garden last season. Think about the internal emotional battle that Bostonians will deal with if they have to cheer against Thomas in an Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics and Cavs will open the season against each other on October 18th in Cleveland.

*All non-cited statistics are from basketball-reference

*All salary information is from realgm.com

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