CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – After almost a month of speculation over whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers would get equal value for Kyrie Irving, they did. Maybe more so.
After dealing Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Žižić and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 1st round pick, both parties – Irving and the Cavaliers – got what they sought.
Irving will now be the face of the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, as opposed to a co-star on the best team in the East. The Cavaliers got better in the moment, in a sense, while also protecting themselves if LeBron James departs following the 2017-18 season.
In no universe is Thomas a better player than Irving in a vacuum, but in desperate need of bench depth and an extra body to guard Kevin Durant, the addition of Crowder makes the Cavaliers a team better suited to battle the Golden State Warriors.
Given LeBron James’ presence, Irving had a reduced value relative to his strengths, and Thomas will fill the role effectively with similarly strong offensive and poor defensive skills. The drop-off is small, all things considered.
Thomas, like James, is in his contract year at the age of 28 and is making just over $7 million. If LeBron’s intention is to seek greener pastures following next season, the Cavaliers will be in a better position for a fuller, faster rebuild by having two max contracts come off of the books.
The Brooklyn Nets will at best finish with the 3rd-worst record in the NBA, giving the Cavaliers a top-six pick in the 2018 draft at-worst, which could jump-start the second post-LeBron era in Cleveland.
Or, just maybe, Koby Altman is not done building for The King’s last season under contract.
There will be no better trade chip to acquire a star at the 2018 trade deadline than the Nets’ pick. If the New Orleans Pelicans do not get off the ground, Dell Demps would certainly love to salvage last year’s deal for DeMarcus Cousins, and Demps’ job, for a top-six pick.
Or perhaps the New York Knicks would give in to pressure and deal Kristaps Porzingis for the Nets’ pick before the season starts.
Those scenarios are more unlikely because of the value of the pick if LeBron departs, but if James gives any indication he is staying, Altman could assemble a Big 4 like that of the Warriors.
Lost in all of this is the potential impact of Žižić down the line. A 20-year old seven-footer, what would seem like a throw-in could be a considerable asset should the Cavs be forced into rebuild mode.
Žižić averaged 14.8 points on 64.9% shooting and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes with Darussafaka Dogus of Istanbul last season under former Cavaliers Head Coach David Blatt.
What made Irving more valuable was his age and contract, but with the Wine and Gold’s championship window open only as long as James stays home, those aspects carried less value to the Cavaliers.
Cleveland’s Big 3 may not be as talented as it was entering Tuesday, but the team is considerably deeper. With no certainty of being a power past this year, Irving’s demands wound up putting his former team in a better position to rebound from the remains of a former dynasty.