Sunday 18 March 2018 / 05:00 AM


Danny Ainge wins again: the 60th pick in 2011 is traded for the 1st and the NBA is now a 12-month league.

Very rarely do the two best teams in a conference do business with one another. Very rarely does everybody win in a trade.

For Cleveland, it’s clear the Kyrie-for-Isaiah trade was a backs-against-the-wall play. The Cavaliers had found the situation untenable and decided under no circumstances could it be resolved (whether you agree with the logic or not, that is what they were working under). Getting an accurate trade return for a star, as we’ve seen time and time again, is awfully difficult. Doing so when the information is public that he has no interest of returning is near impossible. Within that context, it’s understandable that the Cavs were enticed by this package.

As with anything LeBron- or Cleveland-related, there is usually multiple revolving doors; this is no different. In the immediate, Thomas can go close to reproducing Irving’s scoring value. It’s hard to make a case for IT as the better player, but his regular season was superior to Kyrie’s no matter how you cut it. He isn’t iso-centric like Irving, so Tyronne Lue and co. will have to construct an offence in which his penetrative talents can be utilised.

His real value will be when LeBron sits: the Cavs flat-out sucked in those minutes last year (and every other year), and Thomas is no stranger to leading the way, essentially carrying the Celtics’ offence to the 1-seed last year. Jae Crowder resembles the 3-and-D prototype the Cavs desperately need, but lauding his acquisition by appointing him the designated KD-stopper is overkill.

Jae Crowder operates the in the area between ‘good defender’ and ‘lockdown’, and is a capable, intelligent defender. His shooting operates on the same plateau — good, not great — although space provided from playing with LeBron may see that rise in the interim. Wings are always of service, and nabbing one with the best value contract in the league is a big plus.

Ante Zizic, aside from having an awesome NBA name, is a relatively unproven commodity. He was hit-and-miss through Summer League, and without NBA minutes to prepare him, what he can offer the Cavs deep into their run remains unknown.

Assertions that this team is now better once trading Irving are overblown. IT and Crowder are dependable contributors, but neither offer the upside of Irving or possess the same outright killer instinct. Irving has gone toe-to-toe with the best on the biggest stage and come out victorious, a confidence you don’t have unless you’ve been there. However, this is the East, and although they just strengthened their biggest rival, the Cavs still sit atop the totem pole if Thomas returns at full strength (and that’s a big if, coming off a serious hip injury which some have regarded as a potential career-ender isn’t inspiring confidence, and the medical situation is still to be worked out).

The Cavs have better prepared themselves for the crossroads they’re about to face. With the uncertainty of LeBron’s future, the assets of Crowder’s contract, the unprotected Nets pick, and Thomas’ expiring offer variance and flexibility to attack whatever situation rears itself come next off-season (or next season).

How they manage these assets will be heavily swung by the impression they get from James, but they have plenty of options — they can flip the Nets pick now or use it to rebuild if LBJ jumps ship, they can look to pair Crowder and Love to bring in a contributor or play out the season and hope to score on the buyout market (D-Wade anybody?).

The upside for the Celtics is far more apparent. Firstly, Danny Ainge is a wizard. No one was high on the idea of paying Isaiah Thomas a max contract at season end, so flipping him for a superior player is a masterstroke.

Criticism of the move has been strange: some say failing to cash in earlier with Butler or George was a mistake, and others suggesting offering up the crown jewel nets-pick for two years of Irving is shortsighted. All of that is ridiculous: remaining contract length is too often overvalued — two seasons is enough time to convince him to stay if you are confident in your product (which they should be), and regardless, Thomas had one year remaining on his contract anyway. Not to mention, tampering is an everyday occurrence, and the Celtics almost certainly had contact with Irving before committing (Kyrie waived his 15% trade bonus).

Adding stars is a luxury, and whilst acquiring George or Butler would have been positive, the variance of getting a high-level wing in Hayward and a guard in Irving is of more value than piling up on forwards. Irving fits the timeline better than the other guys and offers the highest upside, and some internal confidence over the development of Jaylen Brown would be of no surprise.

Those overlooking IT’s defensively limitations are suffering from convenient case of confirmation bias. Irving does suffer from a lack of effort, but it isn’t ineptitude. Hopes are this can improve. In Irving, they get a scoring machine, a go-to guy down the stretch and genuine foil to pair with Hayward. The thought of what Brad Stevens can draw up for these two or the different lineups they can run out is enticing. This team will make a hard run at retaining the 1-seed when things come together.

For the league, it’s an interesting read on the trade value for stars, especially considering the average returns for other moves. The hierarchy in the East and the race for home-court just took an interesting turn.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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