CLEVELAND - About 30 minutes before LeBron James posted his Arthur meme seen 'round the world, the NBA's official Twitter account sent out a #LeaguePassAlert notifying its followers that the Boston Celtics trailed the Atlanta Hawks with just less than five minutes remaining in the game.
Any Cleveland Cavaliers fan who opted to tune in witnessed a familiar sight. Kyrie Irving proceeded to finish off his 35-point performance by scoring a dazzling 10 points in the game's final five minutes to secure a 110-107 victory for the Celtics.
James' Arthur post may not have been aimed at Irving, but it might as well have been. After all, he wouldn't have been the only person in Northeast Ohio shaking his fist.
It's been nearly three months since the Cavs agreed to send Irving to the Celtics and thus far, the early return for Cleveland is looking less than stellar. Sure, the two biggest pieces of the trade for the Cavs -- Isaiah Thomas and the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected 2018 first-round pick -- have yet to suit up for Cleveland, but even those assets currently look less appealing than they did two months ago.
In the case of Thomas, the 2-time All-Star appears to be at least a month -- at the earliest -- away from making his Cavs debut. And even once he does, there's no telling how the torn labrum in his hip he's currently recovering from will affect the 5-foot-9 guard's ability to replacing Irving's scoring output.
Prior to Cleveland's loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday, which dropped the Cavs' record to 5-7 on the season, LeBron James seemed to do his best to temper expectations for Thomas' return.
"I don't think we're relying on IT to come back. We want him to take his time," James told reporters. "When he feels he's ready, he's going to fit right in. We can't rely on just one person. We can't rely on just one person for us to be as good as we want to be, whether it's IT or myself or Tristan [Thompson] being out. We have guys who have to step up."
As for the Nets' pick -- which some considered the crowned jewel of the Cavs' haul -- it's beginning to look less likely that the once-coveted selection will land in the top-3 of a top-heavy 2018 NBA Draft.
Make no mistake, Brooklyn is still a bad team. But with Chicago, Sacramento, Phoenix, Atlanta and Dallas also showing little-to-no signs of life so far this season, the Nets will have plenty of competition in next year's draft lottery.
Of course, the ping pong balls could always bounce in
Brooklyn's Cleveland's favor -- or the Cavs could ultimately swap the pick for an established star player. That just feels like too much uncertainty to bank on when it comes to the centerpiece of a trade in which Cleveland gave up a player of Irving's caliber.
"We're running around here worrying about getting the Brooklyn pick," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after his team lost to the Nets in October. "They might want our pick."
When it comes to the two players from the Irving deal who have played for the Cavs, rookie center Ante Zizic has yet to appear for more than seven minutes in a single game. But after showing flashes throughout the preseason, the 7-foot 20-year-old could currently be considered a pleasant surprise.
At this point, however, the same couldn't be said about Jae Crowder.
While some -- present company included -- touted Crowder as an unsung hero of the deal, the veteran forward has underwhelmed throughout his 12 games in Cleveland. According to basketball-reference, the former analytics darling has had a negative effect on his team across the board when on the court for the Cavs and had already lost his starting spot prior to Tristan Thompson's calf injury last week.
Add in a 3-point shooting percentage that currently sits at just 31.6 and it'd be tough to argue Crowder has lived up to his billing as a versatile '3 & D' player -- and even tougher to argue that the Irving trade has done much -- if anything -- to currently bolster the oldest roster in the NBA's championship chances.
Speaking of Irving, the Celtics' stellar play this season has as much to do with the Cavs' disappointment from the deal as anything else.
Irving looks like a potential MVP candidate -- and vindicated in his decision to request a trade -- while the two young players Boston managed to keep in the trade, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, have each been impressive through the first month of the season. Through 12 games, the Celtics lay claim to a 10-2 record and are currently in the midst of a 10-game winning streak. Not only does Boston appear to have a promising future, but present as well, thanks largely their chief Eastern Conference rival.
Of course, plenty can change between now and May -- and beyond -- as Thomas' health and the outcome of the Nets' pick will play large roles in how the deal is ultimately viewed.
But until then, Cleveland is left clenching its collective fist, hopeful that the Irving trade doesn't wind up looking as lopsided in the long run as it does in the present.
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