The Cleveland Cavaliers were so desperate to not have a malcontent superstar in their locker room that they pulled off a trade of that star, by jettisoning point guard Kyrie Irving to a hated rival.
By sending Irving to the Boston Celtics for All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, 20-year old Croatian big man Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick, the Cavs merely took the best imaginable trade bid, regardless of who was making the offer.
It was the rare time when a star player gets traded for near-equal value, short and long term. The Celtics get a guy who’s won on the biggest stage, is one of the all-time great “little man” finishers at the rim, and found a taker for Thomas, who will undoubtedly look to get paid, next season, when he becomes a free agent. Reports are that Thomas, who at a $6 million salary this upcoming season isn’t even a top-100 paid player in the league, could be in line for nearly $40 million a year, so to deal him before having to haggle and hassle over a new contract, Boston did the right thing. And by being in a position of surplus with so many wings and future first-round draft choices (thank you, Nets!), the Celtics were able to package a very skilled wing in Crowder and that Nets pick.
The Cavs, who now must start preparing for the future along with trying to stay in win-now mode, also saw it as a no-brainer, considering unhappy superstars – and/or clashing superstars – never end well for all involved parties. Not even Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant could get past their beef, and they three-peated together. Irving and LeBron James went to three-straight National Basketball Association Finals together, winning once, and that success wasn’t even able to keep them on the same page. So, by honoring Irving’s request, the Cavs saved themselves a year-long headache. The trade will also help improve Cleveland’s locker room unity since Thomas is a fellow grinder and gym rat like James and the point guard is very good friends with power forward Kevin Love, dating back to their Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) days.
All in all, the Cavs got a great return for a pouty All-Star who wanted out and the Celtics got that star player under lock until 2020, while also being three years younger than Thomas, 28.
Thomas, listed at 5-foot-9, has been a miracle of a player, defying his physical stature, draft status (No. 60 and final pick in the 2011 draft), and the fact that two other teams prior to the Celtics gave up on him. But the facts remain that Irving is a better asset than Thomas. Besides the age factor, Irving’s new team has him under contract longer, he’s at least a half-foot taller, and will enter the 2017-18 season healthier, as Thomas missed almost all of the Eastern Conference Finals with a torn hip labrum.
“There’s going to be probably a little bit of a delay for Isaiah as he starts the season this year,” Ainge reportedly told Boston reporters on Tuesday night. “I think that Isaiah should be fine and healthy as the season goes along.”
It’d be a shame if Thomas isn’t ready by the October 17 opening night because, as fate would have it, the Cavs host the Celtics.
Cavalier team doctors, led by Dr. Richard Parker of the Cleveland Clinic, will be evaluating Thomas upon his arrival. And according to a team rep, the franchise isn’t too concerned with Thomas’s progress.
If Thomas’s hip checks out, this already tense rivalry just got a renewed jolt of energy. And until that mid-October matchup commences, let the debate begin about which team got the better end of this blockbuster trade.