Both sides won the Kyrie Irving trade

August 23, 2017

 

 

 

Could the Celtics have done better? That seems to be the most common criticism, that they gave up too much, that they "lost" their trade with the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving.

 

Look, Boston gave up a lot, we can start without disputing that. But if you stop and really consider the parts in this deal I think it looks a lot more reasonable and even is in fact a rare - and in this case certainly improbable - win-win trade. Both sides got what they want at a price they can be happy with.

 

The Cleveland angle is easy in this. They get a practically like-for-like replacement for Irving in Isaiah Thomas, someone who exacerbates slightly Kyrie's worst deficiencies but nonetheless allows the Cavs to basically move on at point guard without really skipping a beat. If they had done nothing more than got Thomas and the 2018 Brooklyn pick, you'd say they probably did well.

 

But that is not all they got! They also got Ante Zizic, a 20-year-old seven-footer who might develop into a functional finisher/shot-stopper, and the real slam dunk in this trade, Jae Crowder.

 

Crowder, who is still only 27, is the kind of true 3-and-D wing the Cavs have only had in patchwork versions throughout the second LeBron epoch. He shot almost 40 percent from distance last year (39.8) and shot roughly 37 percent in his two years as a starter in Boston. 

 

As Nicholas Sciria noted on Twitter, Crowder took a lot of closely-contested threes last year, and on a team with LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas and Kevin Love, will find plenty of space to continue improving that shot.

 

 

 

He's a dogged and agile defender, and can switch with Love to guard up at the four, letting Love go out on the wings where he's not a liability. He might even be able to start as a small-ball center next to Love, LeBron, Thomas and JR Smith. More likely though he comes off the bench with Tristan Thompson retaining his starting role, but either way Crowder fills gaps that the Cavs have never quite had filled the past few seasons. 

 

Cleveland can convincingly argue they get better right now through this deal, and keep open a window for continued relevance with the Brooklyn pick. Considering how they were backed into a corner with Kyrie this is, as they say in soccer, an excellent piece of business.

 

Now, the trickier part, evaluating how the Celtics did. Maybe you think Crowder and Thomas should have got it done, and they could have kept the pick (I think that's out of the question). Or maybe you think they could have at least kept Crowder. 

 

I think Boston did reasonably, and met a price they could afford to in order to get the kind of piece that is rarely available in the NBA. 

 

The Celtics are about a perfect fit for Kyrie, where he can be the primary ballhandler while still fitting into a larger system. He wanted the ball more, and a more prominent role than in Cleveland, and he gets that here. As I've noted before, though, he's still not on the team-wide playmaking level of a true upper-echelon point guard, and so it helps that he has another initiator in Gordon Hayward to split duties with. That Hayward can take, say, 30 percent of those primary responsibilities, will hopefully keep in check some of Irving's worst impulses and more broadly help integrate him into a system that can accentuate his elite ballhandling abilities in a way that serves a more dynamic purpose than the one-on-one gunning Kyrie's instincts lead him to.

 

Irving has the upside to be a more complete point guard, and he can grow into that in Boston. He'll be hidden defensively, too, much like Thomas was.

 

Kyrie is a 25-year-old who's one of the elite attacking talents in basketball, and if you can work out his worst habits he actually has the potential to reach that Harden/Curry pedestal of game-warping primary guards. If anyone can maximize that potential, Brad Stevens seems a good bet. You pay for that if you can and you are happy about it.

 

As for the cost, at least in my opinion Thomas and the pick always had to go. If you start from there the ultimate package the Celtics gave up doesn't seem so hefty. 

 

The Cavs were always going to insist on at least one veteran who could replace some of Irving's value and a long-term asset to make dealing away a 25-year-old star palatable. Thomas and the Brooklyn pick fit that bill. 

 

Then, if you're going to run with guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, not to mention Guerschon Yabusele and Semi Ojeleye, both of whom look like they can also play, you're simply running out of 3-and-D wing space. Yes, Crowder is the best of the bunch they had, and if Cleveland would have accepted Marcus Morris instead obviously they should have pushed that. But Morris is capable in much the same ways Crowder is excellent, and he may similarly thrive in the Stevens system. 

 

You don't back off a deal like this because Jae Crowder is the sticking point. 

 

As for Zizic, I watched him in Summer League, and he's a very, very long way from being an NBA contributor. He's slow-footed and too soft inside, he has no range to speak of and he may or may not have enough shot-blocking and rebounding to make up for all that in the long-term. Either way, he is not an important piece of this puzzle unless someone out there wants to disingenuously say, "Boston gave up three players and a pick!"

 

Then there's the pick. Most people are treating it like it's No. 1 already, but Brooklyn might surprise you. They've got a nice collection of backcourt talent with D'Angelo Russell, Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe and Sean Kilpatrick now. Caris LeVert might be a breakout candidate next season. They've got capable front-court veterans in Trevor Booker, DeMarre Carroll and Quincy Acy. I mean, this isn't a good team, but there are enough parts here that they could cobble 30 or 35 wins next season and finish ahead of plenty of teams, from the ruins in Chicago and Atlanta and Indiana to a mess like the Knicks or Magic to not-quite-there-yet teams like Phoenix, Sacramento and the Lakers.

 

Yes, the 2018 draft is supposedly loaded at the top (aren't they all at this stage in the cycle), and it's not likely the Nets finish ahead of everyone they could, but this still might wind up the sixth or seventh or eighth pick and not the first or second. That's a not-insignifcant consideration.

 

This is a trade that works for what both teams are trying to do. The Celtics needed a young star piece to solidify themselves as the front-runners in the East in the post-LeBron era, and they paid a high but justifiable price for one. The Cavs can at least say they're primed for another trip to the Finals this year, before we figure out what's going to happen with LeBron, and get an asset that lets them begin rebuilding if he leaves.

 

Both sides accomplished something. If you want to say the Cavs "won" the trade, fine, but when you're in a position like the Celtics are with the assets they have to acquire a talent like this, you should absolutely do it. 

 

Genuine, 25-and-under All-Stars don't just pop onto the trade market every day.

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