When the Cavs asked the Celtics for more compensation in the Kyrie Irving trade over concerns about Isaiah Thomas‘ injured hip, we had to entertain the idea Cleveland could actually rescind the deal should Boston hold firm with its original package of Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets‘ 2018 first-round pick.
Well, everyone can relax. On Wednesday, Boston threw the Cavs a 2020 second-round pick to finalize the deal, which all but confirms this trade was never going to fall apart. Seriously, do you think Cleveland is suddenly feeling better about taking on a potentially damaged Thomas because it landed what could be a mid-to-high-50s pick three years from now? Do you think the Celtics feel worse about adding Irving because they gave up that pick? Come on.
This is an optics move. Nothing more. Once Cleveland decided to play tough, it had to come back with something, anything, if only to justify the fuss. Danny Ainge played nice. He gave — gave — the Cavs a pick of minuscule value, which he in no way owed them considering the rich package already in place. In doing so, Ainge avoided a potential disaster of his own in having to take back an emotionally, and apparently physically, wounded Thomas had Cleveland stubbornly, and recklessly dug in at the 11th hour to save face.
So we’re right back where we started, with the Cavs getting a haul for Irving that dwarfs the package Indiana got for Paul George and the take Chicago got for Jimmy Butler. And the Celtics get a 25-year-old star who, as Ainge said when the trade was first announced on Aug. 23, “fits [the Celtics’] timeline.”
The Celtics are playing for 2020 and beyond, which means Irving, a free agent in 2019, must re-sign for this trade to mean anything. Clearly the Celtics think he’ll do that, or they likely wouldn’t have considered the deal in the first place.
Does this make the Celtics the team to beat in the East next year? No. If Thomas can come back healthy, even if it’s not until after the All-Star break or even closer to the playoffs, he can replace Irving’s production. And Crowder makes the Cavs a far more versatile defensive team, particularly in the way they match up with the Warriors. If Boston and Cleveland were to meet again in next year’s playoffs, the Cavs still would figure to be favored.
Has Boston closed the gap? That’s a good question. It depends largely on Thomas’ health, but Boston certainly got better on the offensive end by adding Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and No. 3 overall selection Jayson Tatum, who stands to get a lot of quality minutes in Crowder’s absence at small forward, which should expedite his growth. The defense will be Boston’s big question. Avery Bradley (gone to the Pistons) and Crowder were defensive anchors. At the same time, Thomas was an extreme liability, though Irving is pretty much the same thing.
Boston is betting on Irving going from star to superstar, certainly possible given his age and talent. Cleveland, meanwhile, is covering itself on all sides in defense of LeBron James‘ 2018 free agency. If James leaves, they have that Nets pick to jump start a rebuild. If he stays, they have a big-time asset to go out and get another star to put next to James. That’s another reason this deal was never going to fall through. That Nets pick is everything to a team caught in the strange spot of being a Finals favorite on the verge of a rebuild.