The Cavaliers and Celtics finally got the Kyrie Irving trade finalized late Wednesday night, with Boston tossing in a 2020 second round pick (via Miami) along with the additional trade package that sent Cleveland Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first round pick.
The trade package received by the Cavs, at least on the surface, appears to be a mixture of future assets, namely the Brooklyn pick, and players that can help in the immediate in what could be the last title run with LeBron James. Cleveland hopes to be able to keep James next summer, but they know there’s a very real possibility that he leaves, which is why obtaining some insurance for the future was important to them in dealing Irving.
While the Brooklyn pick is the prize of this deal, the Cavs can spin it as a trade to stay competitive now as well, considering Thomas is coming off of a career-year and a season in which he had legitimate buzz for being in the top five of the MVP conversation. However, Thomas’ hip injury leaves some doubt as to how effective he will be this season in helping James and company get to a fourth straight NBA Finals.
Thomas is defiant in the face of his hip injury, and recently insisted that when he gets back on the floor this season, he’ll be just as good a player as he was a year ago. Hopefully, Thomas is right, but within the Cavs organization, they aren’t quite so confident. According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, LeBron and coach Tyronn Lue both became far less excited about the Irving trade after learning the severity of Thomas’ injury and that he’ll be out for an extended period to begin the season.
One league source with an understanding of Cleveland’s situation told me that as news spread throughout the organization that Thomas could miss time deep into the upcoming season, James and Lue cooled on the deal. According to the same source, both the Cavs’ franchise player and their head coach were apparently told by upper management that Thomas and Crowder were being brought in to help the team compete with the Warriors now.
It’s an easy thing to spin for the Cavs, pointing to the acquisitions of Thomas and Crowder as win now moves, but it seems like a hedge at best to try and pull off a coup in keeping James and also building for the future.
According to O’Connor, the Cavs were operating under the assumption that James would be leaving next summer, which is why the Brooklyn pick became so important to them. That follows the line of reporting leading up to the deal that noted the Cavs were fearful of James’ departure and being left empty-handed and tied up in big deals that would slow a rebuilding process.
Thomas could very well come back and be a dominant scorer again and help lead Cleveland past his former team in the postseason and to another Finals (likely for a fourth time against Golden State), but it certainly seems as though James and Lue aren’t quite buying what the front office is selling them with regards to this being a move to win in the immediate — and they’re probably right.