The Boston Celtics have something of a reputation. Ever since Danny Ainge scooped the greatest swindle in the history of the NBA with the Brooklyn Trade they’ve been staked with assets. You can’t even close the desk drawers in Ainge’s office for all the draft picks spilling out of them.
When you’ve got the golden chalice then you’ve got the upper hand in all chats – hard to say they didn’t win the Rajon Rondo trade when Rondo pretty much got chased out of Dallas after a few months. They re-signed their most interesting players, they drafted smartly (literally Smart-ly) and they fashioned an attractive team for Brad Stevens, an attractive young coach, full of multi-skilled players on generous contracts.
But they didn’t have a superstar. First place in the Eastern Conference last time wasn’t worth much if LeBron’s just gonna ramp it up in the playoffs and whup you in five… which of course he did. And that was the major frustration among Celtics fans. They had a great team, they played great basketball. All they needed was that one dude to put them over the top, that cold-blooded scorer who could dominate a fourth quarter.
And, you know, with all they had in the tank they definitely could’ve got one. It’s not like there haven’t been any top tier players on the trade block over the last few years. Lemme think… Paul George, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul… all traded in the last six months. What’s more is that the Celtics got rumoured with damn near all of them, as well as every other All Star who wanders knowingly into free agency. That’s Boston’s thing: they get rumoured.
Yet they don’t sign any of them. George went to OKC, Butler went to Minnesota, Cousins to New Orleans and Paul to the Rockets. The Celtics could’ve offered more than every one of those teams and they didn’t. Sometimes you get too attached to your assets, right? But if you’re gonna land a big fish then you’ve gotta bait that line. It’s not like the Celtics had trouble making trades happen in general, they flipped Avery Bradley nice and cleverly in July to avoid having to extend an expensive offer to him and then of course there was the draft day trade that more or less sums up the whole conundrum.
When blessed with the first overall pick, the Celtics chose to trade down to three for an extra top pick next year (either the Lakers firstie if it comes in 2-5 or the better pick of the Kings/76ers number ones). The Markelle Fultz versus Jayson Tatum debate is close enough that you can make a case for Tatum however the symbolic effect of the trade just plays right into all those other things that’ve been said about Boston. Great but not great enough, and they’re too clever for their own good to make that final step, to take that final risk.
And it is a risk. Fultz looked brilliant at Summer League… and then he went down injured like every other 76er prodigy. Paul George might have left after one year, he probably will leave the Thunder after this season. The Celtics over the last three or four years are a perfect example that you can make all the right basketball decisions but that’ll only get you so far. The final step is a matter of luck. Put them chips on the table and roll the dice…
Well, amigos, it’s finally happened. The Boston Celtics have pulled off a major trade.
Kyrie Irving is a bloody talent. Borderline best handles in the NBA and a ruthless scorer. His combination with LeBron James and Kevin Love was never 100% fluid but it was good enough for a championship – Kyrie hitting that shot and everything. Then about a month ago he set NBA Twitter into a frenzy by requesting a trade.
Why? The usual reasons. He’s a multiple All Star who has been living in LeBron’s shadow, pretty much. Wants to flourish on his own without people telling him that LeBron gave him all he’s got. Only problem for Kyrie is that he didn’t have a no-trade clause so while he could demand a way out, he had no say as to where he’d end up. No power of veto. Then again, there are only so many teams with the hoard of assets available this close to the start of the new season.
The Celtics already hit one home run this offseason in convincing Gordon Hayward to leave Utah for their cosy Massachusetts confines. They picked up Al Horford on a decent deal the year before. Spending money hasn’t been a hurdle although with Isaiah Thomas coming up on the final year of his contract it was about to be.
Thomas just had the best season of his career, averaging 28.9 ppg and shooting 46.3% from the field. He made his second All Star Game and if you don’t think he was gonna demand a max contract then get outta here, man. The bloke will earn $6.2m in 2017-18, he’s on a crazily team-skewed deal. That boy needs to get paid and with the way he’s played he probably will. Funny thing is that Kyrie Irving went first overall in the 2011 Draft while Isaiah Thomas was picked 60th in the same year. They’re equally experienced and they’ve emerged as remarkably similar players.
Kyrie Irving in 2016-17: 25.2 PTS | 3.2 REB | 5.8 AST | 47.3 FG% | 40.1 3PT%
Isaiah Thomas in 2016-17: 28.9 PTS | 2.7 REB | 5.9 AST | 46.3 FG% | 37.9 3PT%
Except… Thomas is six inches shorter. The guy is not even six feet tall. He’s also three years older than Irving and while Irving will earn $18.8m this upcoming campaign he’s also under contract for next season with a player option on the one after. While Irving’s defensive prowess (or lack thereof) is a punchline sometimes, he at least has the ability to play within a system and improve. Thomas can’t defend and never will be able to – he’s too short. Like, you put a 6’4 guard on him and that guy is getting up his shot every time.
Arguing that the Celtics are getting the best player from the trade is redundant – you already know that. So how about this take instead: Getting Irving doesn’t really make the Celtics any better. Sure, the combo of him and Hayward might, but the combo of Thomas and Hayward might have too. Just as a straight swap, this probably doesn’t increase their ceiling.
Oh but it damn sure limits their floor. Now the fears that Thomas couldn’t sustain his production are gone, the fears about overpaying him are gone… plus Irving is a top tier marketable star and every front office in the league loves one of those. It’s still typically short on excessive risk, being the Celtics and all, but at least Danny Ainge has finally made a power move.
Meanwhile in Cleveland… Isaiah Thomas? Good get, fills a lot of what Kyrie did and the trade-off there is covered by the other stuff they gathered up. LeBron is still the alpha dog, Thomas now fits into that second scorer role which is possibly a better fit for him. Jay Crowder? Yeah mate, superb. Gives them another wing who can defend the opposition’s best (and thus relieve LBJ) and, if he’s on his day, hit a few threes as well. Brooklyn’s 2018 first rounder? Brilliant. Don’t sleep on Brooklyn being better than anticipated this time around but that should still be a mid-lottery pick at worst. At best it might even be top three and then, sweet as, that’s the insurance plan if LeBron opts out and leaves. Ante Zizic is more of a cherry on top, he’s there for decoration not substance. Having said that, he’s seven feet tall and twenty years old. Also he’s Croatian. You might as well have one of those around if you have the opportunity.
Say and who do the Celtics play in the opening game of the new NBA season? Right, umm… the Cavaliers, ain’t it? Why yes, dear comrade, they certainly do.
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