Well, it happened.
After just over a month of chaos, rumors, anger and confusion, Kyrie Irving is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. A player who hit the most important shot in team history will now be playing in a different uniform next season.
To be honest, Irving being dealt to the Boston Celtics really just hasn’t set in yet. The trade seemed to come out of nowhere, developing from hot rumor to done deal in the span of an hour.
However, it’s done, and now it’s time to parse through the rubble. While I’ve come down a bit from my initial reaction to the move, I’ll admit there are still a handful of question marks hovering over the Cavs and their new-look roster.
I won’t lie, as this trade started taking shape, I was resistant to it. I felt Isaiah Thomas, as talented as he is, was a slight drop-off from Irving. After Cleveland spent the past month grandstanding about needing a blue-chip prospect in return, it seemed odd all it could pry from the Celtics was Jae Crowder and a very raw Ante Zizic. Personally, I felt the only thing keeping this from a lopsided win for Boston was the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick.
I’ll admit said reaction was rash and came from a good place. Seeing Irving go was something I generally wasn’t prepared for, even with the nonstop rumors. The initial instinct was to expect an ungodly return for his services, anything less would be a let-down.
Since then, I’ve realized there are some obvious pros to this trade for Cleveland.
Thomas is still one of the NBA‘s best point guards, coming off a season in which he was third in the league in PPG. He’s well-liked, seen as a team player who may not be as divisive in the locker room as his Cleveland predecessor. Thomas will also undoubtedly come into this season with a chip on his shoulder, as he rightly feels some scorn towards a Boston team which utilized him to help recruit Gordon Hayward and rewarded him by sending him packing.
Additionally, Crowder will provide an athletic wing off the bench, a luxury the Cavs have yet to enjoy since LeBron James returned. Zizic had a rough summer league, but at seven feet tall, he can certainly be utilized if he can get his game together.
While this is all well and good, there are cons, too. And they’re significant.
For one, Thomas is coming off a season-ending hip injury, and various rumors indicate it’s still a concern. He can also walk for nothing at the end of the season. That the best player in the deal is on an expiring contract is hardly comforting.
On top of this, nothing the Cavs get in this deal helps significantly close the gap with the Golden State Warriors. Granted there wasn’t a single logical trade Cleveland could’ve assembled which made the team better than its Western Conference rivals, this deal didn’t really markedly increase the 2017 title chances. Thomas is still a bit of a defensive liability, and while Crowder will help in guarding Kevin Durant, Golden State still has the best odds of beating the Cavs in a seven-game series.
The biggest question mark of all, though, is how it affects James’ future with the team.
Personally, I don’t think this trade increases the odds of him staying in Cleveland. I’m not saying it pushed him towards Los Angeles, but it certainly won’t elicit any sort of a commitment from him. Thomas can follow James out the door if he leaves next summer, which would make this trade look pretty bad.
The Brooklyn pick does help the cause a bit. The Cavs can use it, getting a top prospect to build around should they feel James is a goner. Or, they can flip it in a trade, ideally for a star who’s team-controlled beyond this season. This would (hypothetically) help convince James to stick around, though he likely won’t drop any hints until July at the earliest.
These are just a few narratives we’ll need to keep an eye on moving forward from this deal. They aren’t the only ones, though.
How will James gel with his new point guard? How will the Cavs as a whole move forward without Irving? Is this team as currently constructed able to do something it couldn’t do last year – prove it can win on a night James rests?
We’ll see how it plays out. For now, the feeling is one of bittersweet intrigue. One of the most popular athletes in Cleveland is now playing elsewhere, and how the players the team received in return pan out will play a big part in what James does come season’s end.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook