Kyrie Irving Moves to Boston: Did the Cavs Win the Trade?

The biggest blockbuster trade in recent memory went down on August 30, 2017. Involving two of the best point guards in the NBA, one of the premier perimeter defenders, and a highly-valued draft pick, the trade was simply “loaded.” It marked the end of an era in both Cleveland, Ohio, and Boston, Massachusetts. In Boston, the superhero of the city stood at a mere five feet and nine inches. The diminutive, yet incredibly skilled Isaiah Thomas led the Boston Celtics to the first seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Cleveland Cavalier’s second fiddle Kyrie Irving remained unhappy with his status on the team. After losing in five games in the finals to the Golden State Warriors, Irving decided to assume control of his own fate and demanded to leave the city that adopted him as a second prodigal son. The city was hurt, the fans were hurt, and his teammates were hurt. LeBron James even wondered whether he “did something to drive Irving away.” The Cavalier’s decision to send Irving away left analysts wondering whether or not they would be able to sustain their brilliance. That being said, the Cavaliers made the correct decision from a locker room and basketball standpoint.

Had the Cavaliers not dealt away Irving, the locker room environment not only would have been toxic, but also would have threatened their title hopes. Everybody within the organization knew Irving was not satisfied with his situation, and this uncertainty would have affected his level of play. Instead of driving Irving’s unbelievably high trade value into the dirt, Cavaliers GM Koby Altman flipped Irving for an enviable package.

Additionally, it is well documented that a large portion of Irving’s request was due to [LeBron] James. If James’s sidekick [Irving] was not on board, that would be detrimental to the Cavalier’s success. Though Irving shouldered a massive part of the Cavs offensive load, his beef with James would have negatively affected the team. Considering this from a management and player’s standpoint, trading Irving was a no-brainer.

Given the minimal leverage that Irving’s spontaneous request provided the Cavaliers with, they acquired a king’s ransom in return. While acquiring Thomas will help the team adhere to what made them successful in the past (a scoring point guard,) the acquisition of Jae Crowder specifically must not be overlooked. His defensive versatility and ability to play ‘safety’ on defense has relieved James of defensive pressure.

Cleveland is currently 16-7, second in the Eastern Conference, and Thomas is expected to return from a hip injury in the coming weeks. On the flipside, the Irving-led Celtics have outperformed many of the expectations that were set for them before the season. After stud forward Gordon Hayward’s injury on opening night, Irving has assumed full control of the team and has not disappointed. Because of the Celtic’s 20-4 record, some have questioned who really won the trade, but it was clear that Cleveland needed to part ways with Irving.The Cavs are only 3.5 games out of the first seed in the East, despite missing the biggest piece in the trade [Thomas.]

What also must not be forgotten is the Brooklyn Nets first round pick. The Nets are sitting at a miserly 7-14, likely giving the Cavaliers a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, one that is widely accepted to be completely loaded with talent.

Nevertheless, Irving’s success in Boston warrants some questions being asked on how well Cleveland handled the situation. While keeping Irving from an entirely basketball standpoint certainly would have boosted the Cavaliers thus far, conclusions must not be jumped to before Isaiah Thomas’s production is ensured. By dealing Irving, the Cavaliers closed one chapter, but opened another for Thomas to capture the hearts of another “real sports city.”

– Vijay Sastry ’20

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