CLEVELAND -- Point guard Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers early in the offseason, and on Tuesday night, that wish was granted in the form of a deal with the Boston Celtics, whom Irving and the Cavaliers defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals last summer.
In exchange for Irving, a four-time All-Star, the Cavaliers got point guard Isaiah Thomas, himself an All-NBA performer in 2016-2017, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Here are four reasons why the Irving trade was a good thing for the Cavaliers.
THOMAS BRINGS ADDED SCORING PUNCH
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Thomas was a standout performer last season, averaging 28.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in nearly 34 minutes of play over 76 starts for the Celtics. He converted 46.3 percent of his field goals, 37.9 percent of his three-point tries and carried a .909 free-throw percentage last season, all were single-season career highs.
The third-leading scorer in the NBA last season, Thomas’ points-per-game average trail only Hall of Fame player Larry Bird for the most prolific single-season performance in Celtics history, and his 245 three-pointers made were a franchise best.
CROWDER ADDS DEFENSE
The Cavaliers played well enough defense to coast through the Eastern Conference playoffs with only one setback, but against the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals, they could not contain small forward Kevin Durant.
On the way to closing out the NBA Finals, Durant scored 39 points on 14-of-20 shooting, including a five-of-eight showing from three-point range, to go along with seven rebounds, five assists and one steal to lead Golden State back to the top of the league.
Durant averaged 35.2 points over the five-game series against the Cavaliers.
With Crowder’s 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame and scrappy defensive play, the Cavaliers could be better equipped to defend Golden State if the teams were to meet in The Finals once more.
In a bit of irony, Crowder was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2012 before being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks on the same day.
BUILDING FOR FUTURE
Because LeBron James can opt out of his contract after the 2017-2018 season and once again enter free agency, the national narrative has been that he will leave Cleveland for the second time in his career in order to chase championships with another team.
Despite coming up on the losing end of The Finals for the fifth time in eight trips to the championship round, James made NBA history against the Warriors this past summer. James became the first player in league history to average a triple-double in the championship series.
James averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists while shooting 56.4 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three-point range against the Warriors. Also, James passed Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan for the most points in NBA Playoffs history and Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson for the most triple-doubles in NBA Finals history this past season.
Should James stay, this would give the Cavaliers a chance to add talent and depth to the roster or be a chip in a trade to get a solid return at some point in the season. If James were to leave for the second time, it gives the organization a potential cornerstone pick after they traded away much of their selections to acquire veterans who complemented James’ game.
LOCKER ROOM CHEMISTRY
A team does not make three straight trips to the NBA Finals without some form of chemistry within the locker room, and the Cavaliers have shown a penchant for making deals that better the team, both on and off the floor.
When Dion Waiters clashed with Irving, the prior was a part of a three-team trade that brought shooting guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavaliers from the New York Knicks. Considered a key offensive acquisition, Smith has developed into an important two-way player in his two-plus years with the Cavaliers.
Ironically enough, it was Irving who hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers history when he knocked down a pull-up three-pointer from the right wing in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, which led to the first-ever NBA Championship for the franchise.
But since Irving was uncomfortable playing a complementary role with the Cavaliers, having him in the locker room would have been detrimental to the end goal of not only getting back to The Finals, but winning for the second time in three years.