BOSTON Celtics GM Danny Ainge was frank after trading for Kyrie Irving.
“Acquiring a 25-year-old perennial All-Star, a player that fits a timeline for us and is a fantastic offensive player, one of the best offensive players in the league, you have to pay a heavy price,” Ainge said.
That price, paid to the Cleveland Cavaliers, was his own All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas (the Eastern Conference’s leading scorer last season); a starting-calibre player in Jae Crowder; a raw centre in Ante Zizic; plus a highly-coveted unprotected first round pick (via the Brooklyn Nets) that should end up high in the draft.
So who won the trade? Are the Celtics and Cavaliers stronger? What does this mean for LeBron James’ future at the Cavs?
One Western Conference scout, quoted by Bleacher Report, declared: “Cleveland made out like bandits. To get an All-Star, a starter and a good pick, come on.”
US media have also weighed in on the many facets of the blockbuster trade. Here’s what they’re saying.
NBA: Josephine McDonald and Fox Sports Basketball Reporter Olgun Uluc run through the Kyrie Irving trade.
Breaking down Kyrie trade
Much of the coverage handed ‘victory’ in the trade to Cleveland, given the package handed over for Irving.
Yet Writing for FiveThirtyEight, Kyle Wagner argued that Boston had avoided the risk of losing the 5’9” Thomas – a risky player to offer a max contract, at 29 with a hip injury – for nothing in free agency, and had not erred by handing over the first-round pick.
“Danny Ainge finally made a trade, and now he’s getting killed. The guy can’t win,” Wagner wrote.
“For Boston, the trade means giving up the last year of Isaiah’s bargain deal, plus the four seasons of additional surplus value (or cheap labour) created by the Brooklyn draft pick’s rookie deal. To put another way, the Celtics are paying to supercharge that draft pick, essentially turning it from an unknown quantity — in terms of both pick range and player quality — into a proven star. This comes with some downside: Getting an All-Star or All-NBA player on a below-market rookie deal is how modern superteams are made — just ask the Warriors. But given the team’s larger context, the trade doesn’t mortgage Boston’s future, it insures it.”
Yet other NBA reporters slammed the trade, saying Irving for Thomas was largely like for like. Writing for Sports Illustrated, Rohan Nadkarni said that Boston’s grab for Irving was bizarre after they let other more suitable stars slip by.
“After years of hoarding his assets to a comical degree, Danny Ainge’s decision to pull the trigger on the Irving trade is somewhat baffling. If the goal in Boston was to corral a star who could take the team to true Finals contention status, then Ainge seems to have waited for the wrong one,” Nadkarni wrote.
“Both Jimmy Butler and Paul George were available this offseason, and both are better players than Irving.
“Not only are Butler and George better players than Irving, they would have made more sense on the Celtics. Boston could have had an outstanding perimeter rotation, pairing Butler or George with Gordon Hayward, creating the kind of rangy, versatile group needed to compete with the Warriors. While Irving is an upgrade over Thomas, he doesn’t create huge matchup advantages for Boston against Golden State, or likely even Cleveland for that matter.”
In Boston, the mood was more bullish. Writing for the Boston Globe, Dan Shaughnessy said “Irving is worth the risk” as a former No.1 pick and NBA champion.
“At long last, fireworks,” Shaughnessy wrote. “I am all in on the Celtics’ acquisition of Kyrie Irving. I haven’t been this sold on a Boston sports transaction since the Red Sox signed free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval for five years and $95 million.
“OK, bad example. The Panda thing didn’t work out. And truthfully, Danny Ainge’s bold trade could blow up on him if the Brooklyn pick becomes Hakeem Olajuwon and Irving goes all Carl Everett on us.
“But that’s not going to happen. The Celtics just picked up one of the best point guards in the NBA, the second-best player in the Eastern Conference, a 25-year-old Basketball Jones who scored 25 points per game last season and can lead Boston to the NBA Finals.”
Writing for CBS Sports, Matt Moore said Irving would be forced to change his game, reducing his isolation possessions within the offense of Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Moore said the results could be scary if Irving full committed to the new philosophy.
“It’s an important factor because ball movement is central to Boston’s success,” Moore wrote.
“The Celtics were second in passes per game last season per NBA.com (the Cavs were 26th), though Irving averaged only three fewer passes than Thomas. The Celtics’ success was built on getting everyone involved. The Cavaliers’ success was built on the individual brilliance of James and Irving, and passing to shooters. The point guard in Stevens’ system bears way more responsibility.
“If Irving buys in, look out.”
Writing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Terry Pluto said the Cavs had made the best possible deal where a trade was the only option, impressing rival franchises by snaring the first-round pick. Yet it wasn’t the option he would have taken.
“Keeping Irving would have been a disaster,” Pluto wrote. “When a player averages 25 points a game … takes more shots per game than James … and goes to three consecutive NBA Finals…
“When that player wants to be traded because he doesn’t want to share the court with the best player in the NBA… It’s impossible to keep him.
“So then, it became a matter of what is the best trade for the Cavs. I preferred a deal with Phoenix for Eric Bledsoe, Josh Jackson and a draft pick. The Suns weren’t interested.”
So – what about LeBron James, touted to leave (perhaps for the LA Lakers) as a free agent?
Writing for Cleveland.com, Joe Vardon said the equation was simple: If the Cavs remained competitive with their new-look line-up, they still had some chance of keeping LeBron.
Vardon reported: “It’s great if they win, terrible if they lose,” a source close to James said, referring to the Irving trade.
“There you have it. If the Cavs win the Finals, or get there and put up a great fight, and are set up for more of the same for the foreseeable future, it’s going to count heavily in their favour for keeping James.
“If not, welp, a major rebuild in Cleveland will commence.”
Vardon listed Cleveland’s new strongest rotation as:
PG: Thomas, Derrick Rose
SG: J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver
SF: James, Crowder
PF: Kevin Love, Channing Frye
C: Tristan Thompson, Zizic
That leaves out the likes of Jeff Green, Jose Calderon and Iman Shumpert. “They’re inarguably deeper than before,” Vardon wrote.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said LeBron’s future was still in major doubt at Cleveland, yet the trade allowed them to remain an Eastern Conference force in what may be his final season with the Cavs, with flexibility in the case of an exit.
“For Cleveland, trading for Thomas allows them to do this: Isaiah Thomas is a free agent next year, if LeBron decides to leave and they want to rebuild, they can let Thomas go,” Wojnarowski said.
“If he decides to stay, they can do an extension with Thomas. So financially, it doesn’t strap them. They didn’t have to bring in expensive contracts in the short-term, which is what they didn’t want to do, because they don’t have a commitment from LeBron James. They don’t have great confidence that they’re going to re-sign him.
“But they did a deal that allows them to compete for the Eastern Conference championship, and so they’ll see how it plays out this year and then LeBron will wait at the end of the year.”
Writing for Yahoo Sports, Dan Wetzel said the Irving trade reeked of the Cavs trying to please LeBron.
“James has time to judge the situation. Is this Cavs team better, or just more fun to be on? Is it worth staying at the expense of his dwindling prime? Is there really a better option out there?” Wetzel wrote.
“Or, is he gone for sure, leaving Cleveland the way he did once before, in search of a title contender? In that case, could the Cavs be so bold that they try to trade him during the season?
“It’s Kyrie out the door now. Just more than a year ago, he hit the clutch Game 7 shot to clinch Cleveland’s championship. That’s ancient history in a deal that’s all about the future.
“Boston got the star, Cleveland got a nice return on a bad situation, but in the end, this always was about LeBron James and whether the dynamics can be changed enough to keep him around Ohio for the rest of his career.”
Writing for CBS Sports, Bill Reiter said the Irving trade would finally determine whether Kyrie was a true standalone superstar. Yet he also gave a major take on what it could mean for LeBron’s legacy.
“Even James will be judged by what come’s next. He couldn’t make it work with Kyrie. He may bolt for another team next season. Or not. Either way, if Cleveland and LeBron come up short next season, the idea of LeBron the invisible hand will turn into a punchline. The player still will be a legend, of course, but the shadow GM will be remembered as a guy who should have let Riley be Riley and know his lane,” Reiter wrote.
“Those are the massive stakes when dealing with LeBron James, the expectations his greatness deliver and now a trade involving the top two teams in the Eastern Conference and a pick and players capable of shifting the fortunes of everyone involved.”
Originally published as Boston’s ‘baffling’ Kyrie move, LeBron’s future
Source: sports dailytelegraph