The Cleveland Cavaliers have ruled over the Eastern Conference since the return of LeBron James in 2014. It would make sense, with that as the backdrop, for the team to “run it back” with a similar roster construction for 2017-2018, even after a relatively decisive NBA Finals defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. However, the trade request from Kyrie Irving that captivated the entire NBA in July and August presented a nearly impossible situation for the Cavaliers and first-time general manager Koby Altman.
In short, the Cavs were staring down the barrel of James’ free agency in 2018 with a second star that clearly wanted out of town and an apparent realization that extracting full value in an Irving trade would be extremely difficult. Fast forward to late August, though, and Cleveland did the unthinkable in seemingly maintaining their present competency while simultaneously upgrading for the future in a real way.
The Cavs pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Irving to the Boston Celtics, the team’s chief rival in the East, in exchange for a package of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round pick by way of the Brooklyn Nets. While this is a highly nuanced deal for both sides (and one that is made more interesting by their proximity in projected standings), the overarching theme is that the Cavaliers did better in terms of value than virtually anyone could have predicted just days earlier.
Thomas is the clear centerpiece of the immediate return and the diminutive point guard is coming off a season in which he garnered All-NBA honors while garnering real love in the NBA MVP race. It should be noted that Thomas is battling a hip ailment that could cost him time during the 2017-2018 season and that certainly is a concern for his new team. Still, the 5’9 guard averaged nearly 29 points per game with a true shooting percentage north of 60 percent a season ago and Thomas’ offensive ability isn’t in particular question at this point in time.