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When Kyrie Irving made it clear he wanted a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, it seemed like the future was bleak in Cleveland. LeBron James had yet to recommit to Cleveland past this season and with an Irving trade imminent, it seemed like the Cavaliers had one more year of contention before a likely slide back to irrelevancy.
Yesterday, Cleveland traded Irving to the Boston Celtics for a return of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 unprotected first round pick. With that one move, everything we assumed about Cleveland’s future changed.
As Cleveland pondered their potential trades for Kyrie Irving, there were a few things they needed to consider. First, they needed to get a fair return for a player of Irving’s talents. Second, they needed to decide if they wanted to get the right pieces to take another shot at the title this year while they still have LeBron James. Third, they wanted to look at getting pieces to rebuild this team next summer if James leaves in free agency. Last, and maybe most importantly, they wanted to get the players and assets to make James have to seriously consider staying in Cleveland.
Any trade that accomplished two of those four things would have been a success. Somehow, Cleveland managed to check all the boxes in a trade that fulfilled everything on their wish list.
In getting back Thomas, Crowder and the Nets’ 2018 pick, they got more than fair return for Irving. Thomas is one of the best scoring point guards in the league, averaging 29 points per game last year. Crowder is a solid two-way player, capable of playing both forward positions. The Nets’ pick could very easily wind up being the #1 overall pick giving Cleveland the ability to add another high talent player next summer.
Goal one, accomplished.
By adding Thomas and Crowder, the Cavaliers are still in a very good position to take a shot at the title this year. In fact, they may be even better than this past season. Thomas can replace the scoring of Irving, and give James a great second option.
Crowder really helps Cleveland’s depth. In fact, Crowder might actually be the most important piece here. By getting him, Cleveland stole Boston’s best option to guard James in a playoff series. If we wind up with a fourth straight Finals of Cleveland versus Golden State, Crowder also gives Cleveland someone to put on Kevin Durant for long stretches. That allows James to save energy for the offensive end, increasing Cleveland’s chances. Goal two? Check.
If James decides to leave next summer, Cleveland now has options to remain competitive. They can go all in on building around Thomas and keep Kevin Love around as a second scorer. They can resign Crowder to fill in the hole at small forward following James’ departure. If they add a ready to play weapon with that Nets’ pick, they now have a new big three to compete with Boston for the foreseeable future. Goal three, a resounding success.
Finally, Cleveland may have done enough here to convince James to keep chasing championships in Ohio. The prevailing rumors are that James will leave next summer to go west. Now that doesn’t seem quite as certain. In the west, James would have to constantly battle against Golden State, Houston and San Antonio. It’s very possible that Minnesota, Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers will be very good, very soon.
If James’ only basketball goal left is winning more rings, does that sound like the best option, especially when LeBron could stay with Thomas, Love, Crowder and whoever that draft pick turns into? As of right now, the only team James would have to seriously worry about in the east is Boston. The east is still the path of least resistance to the Finals, which at this point are the only games that really matter to the King. Goal 4?
We can’t decide until about 10 months from now when James becomes a free agent but Cleveland has set themselves up with their best possible odds of retaining him.
The Boston Celtics just offered up quite a juicy meal and Cleveland ate readily. Is it a meal fit for a King? Time will tell. Either way, Cleveland should be feeling more than satisfied.