CLEVELAND -- At some point in the not-too-distant past, I wrote that the Kyrie Irving trade wasn't "looking great for the Cleveland Cavaliers."
I pointed to what as at that point a 10-game Boston Celtics winning streak. I called to the unlikely emergence -- or at least mediocrity -- of the Brooklyn Nets, whose first-round pick the Cavs received and some considered to be the crowned jewel of the deal. I bemoaned the struggles of forward Jae Crowder. And I detailed my increasing pessimism in regards to Isaiah Thomas' recovery from his injured hip.
Add it all up and it was tough to see any scenario in which Cleveland could be considered the winner of the Irving trade.
I wasn't necessarily wrong. It was also November.
Nearly two months later, the Cavs, who laid claim to an unimpressive 5-7 record at the time of my last public assessment of their blockbuster deal, head to Boston to face the Celtics on Wednesday night having won 20 of their last 25 games. At 25-12 on the season, Cleveland sits just 3.5 games back of Boston for first place in the Eastern Conference standings.
As the Cavs' fortunes have changed, so too have the prospects of the August trade that sent a 4-time All-Star in Irving to their biggest conference rival. Crowder is playing better. Brooklyn has come back to Earth. And thus far, Thomas has looked as good as advertised -- albeit in just 18 minutes of action.
That's how long Thomas was on the court for on Tuesday, coming off the bench to make his Cavs debut in Cleveland's 127-110 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Playing for the first time since suffering a torn labrum in his hip, which ended his role in the Celtics' playoff run last spring, Thomas looked every bit like a potential All-NBA counterpart for LeBron James, scoring 17 points in a variety of ways.
It's still early for Thomas -- he won't play against the Celtics on Wednesday and remains on a minutes restriction for the foreseeable future. But if he can continue to play as well as he did against the Blazers -- and eventually do so in extended action -- it would go a long way toward filling the void Irving left as an elite scorer in the Cavs backcourt.
Even before adding Thomas back to the mix, Cleveland was already showing signs of improvement this season. Kevin Love is in the midst of the best season of his Cavs career. James might be having the best season of his 15-year career, period. And thanks to the versatility Crowder has provided and the additions of veterans like Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon, this team is the deepest Cleveland has had since James returned to the organization in 2014.
Of course, we're just now nearing the halfway point of the 2017-18 season and plenty can change in the next six months -- just as they have in the last two. And from a long-term point of view, trading away a 25-year-old Irving, who continues to establish himself as one of the league's top talents, will always remain a tough pill to swallow.
But even if just in Thomas' 18 minutes on Tuesday, it appeared possible that the Cavs' best-case scenario this season could play out. And at the very least, the Irving trade is looking a whole lot better for Cleveland than it did just two months ago.