The end of the Kyrie Irving saga saw Uncle Drew going to Boston in exchange for Mr. Fourth Quarter, Isaiah Thomas, along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Celtics' 2018 first-round pick (from the trade with Brooklyn in 2013).
Any trade involving two elite NBA point guards is enough to generate buzz around the league, but not as much when last season's best clutch performer joins forces with LeBron James in Cleveland, at the same time a Top-10 player is given the opportunity to lead a promising team and a storied franchise.
Most fans think that the star-studded switch was pretty much even, while some of us beg to differ. On the heels of this blockbuster deal, two FHM sportswriters make a case for the team that they believe emerged as the bigger winner:
Kirby: Huge trade for Cleveland, JP! Somehow, they set themselves up for the present and the future! What do you think?
JP: Not so fast! I think the Celtics got the better end of this deal. Boston cleared up its forward logjam, but more importantly, received almost the same All-Star talent in the point guard position, only bigger and potentially be better.
Kirby: You're right. On the surface, the Celts get the better player in the deal, and one who just happens to be willing to sign a max extension with them! Happy days! But look at it from Cleveland's perspective. There's no way Kyrie was coming back even if egos were massaged. Plus, they weren't getting any offers that suited their short-term/long-term plans. This trade, though, works both ways for the Cavs. They still get to contend and they now have a potential top pick in next year's draft!
JP: The problem is, we're living in a Golden State Warriors world, where short-term plans are all for naught. That was apparent during the Finals, and the Cavaliers still had Kyrie then. As for Boston, the core of Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Irving can use the next couple of years to gel, wait for the Warriors to weaken (hopefully), then take a shot at the title—much sooner than a rebuilding Cleveland squad with an aging LeBron or without him.
Kirby: You're forgetting, though, that the Celts and the Cavs are in far different positions. The Celts have been waiting for the right time to land a franchise player, which they got in Kyrie. (Yay!) But will that be enough to threaten the Warriors in the next two to three years? Remember, Irving and Hayward may be young, but Horford isn't. And they're two to three years away from having to pay their young guys. Cleveland, on the other hand, is in a flux, largely because LeBron hasn't said anything about his intentions to stay or leave. This trade still sets them up to compete next season for a title and if LeBron leaves, they're not in the hook to sign IT to a max. They could just as well clean house, tank, and rely on the equity of that 2016 title to get them through the next decade. Plus, they have a foundational piece in that Nets pick. Granted, that's contingent on Brooklyn sucking again this year, which they will, by the way.
JP: Personally, I'm still unconvinced by Big Al at the center spot, which Boston needs to work on. I believe the Celtics are an athletic big away from seriously contending. (Andre Drummond or Deandre Jordan, perhaps?) But what makes the big difference here is head coach Brad Stevens. Initially, I was also concerned on how Kyrie's play would fit with his system, then I remembered how Stevens was able to transform Isaiah, who also needed the ball in his hands, into an MVP contender.
Kirby: All fair points on your end, though I should caution you that the Celts aren't just incorporating the first option on a new team. They also have to incorporate Hayward with Irving and vice versa, as well as with the incumbents of the team. Marcus Morris is also a new player so he'll need to be acclimated to the scene, too. Last time the Celts were in this position was 2008, but they didn't have to deal with the Warriors then. There will be growing pains but they'll get it together eventually.
JP: On the issue of integrating the new guys, I'm not too worried about Hayward, considering his relationship with Coach Brad. With Kyrie, he gets his chance to lead a team and won't be foolish enough to not buy into Boston's philosophy. Meanwhile, despite the roster flexibility (draft picks, expiring contracts), the future of the Cavaliers is pretty much murky. Although I have to give it to new general manager Koby Altman; he coaxed Danny Ainge into paying a king's ransom for his disgruntled superstar.
Kirby: That "future" you speak of with the Cavaliers is relative. On the one hand, you can look at it with a glass-half-empty perspective, especially if they lose LeBron next season. They still have some horrible contracts to get rid off—Shump, JR Smith, Thompson, perhaps even Love. But I don't think it's hard as people make it out to be. There are different ways of getting out of those contracts that don't involve trades. This is where the Nets pick comes in; it's going to be a high lottery pick for the simple reason that Brooklyn stinks. Is it going to be enough to make 'Bron stay? No. But it's a foundational piece that the Cavs can use to rebuild. Plus, the team and its fanbase aren't as championship-starved anymore. They won their title and the equity that comes with it can last a few years. If LeBron leaves, they can tank and rebuild and nobody's going to begrudge them for doing it. Next year's draft is top-heavy too, by the way. That kid Michael Porter, Jr. is worth binge-watching on YouTube, same with Marvin Bagley, Jr.
So, how would you grade Cleveland's haul here?
JP: Given the ramifications, I'd say 8/10. I'm only penalizing them because they lost a young, great player, which I think hurt their chances at retaining LeBron. But if we're just talking about next season, this trade was as close to great as one could get.
Kirby: Don't forget about IT. He may not be the playmaker Irving is, but he's a solid replacement. Him and Crowder will be major pieces for a Cavs team that still has Love and that other guy, LeBron, is it? That team can still make it to the Finals. That's why I'm in love with this trade for the Cavs. They still contend next season and no matter what happens in the offseason next year, they have options now. Here's another thing to consider: Lost in the hooplah is the fact that the Cavs actually save $30 million in tax payments by getting rid of Kyrie's contract—$30 million!
JP: Same as the Celtics. They finally landed a bonafide stud, while not giving up valuable assets, maybe except for that 2018 pick. Isaiah joining LeBron in Cleveland can also be seen as Boston showing gratitude to last year's biggest success story, putting him in a favorable position at least until next season. The real winners here? Us, NBA fans, with all the wheeling and dealing this offseason.
Kirby: No arguments there, though, I'm still holding out hope that the Pelicans can land a third star to pair with Boogie and the Brow. Is the Greek Freak available?