Kyrie Irving is a Boston Celtic because Danny Ainge isn’t a fool.
On Tuesday night, the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn Pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Irving.
I won’t lie. When I first heard the news, I was shocked. I didn’t think the Celtics and Cavaliers would even consider a swap like this. If anything, I had been hoping the Celtics jumped in as a third team to try and help Cleveland send a reportedly disgruntled Irving somewhere else, in the hopes that the C’s would land another draft pick and help the Cavs get worse.
Well, the Cavs didn’t necessarily get worse on Tuesday night. But for the Celtics — once the moving pieces of this deal were on the table — this was a trade they just had to pull the trigger on.
I’m not going to use this as a forum to knock Thomas. I don’t believe he deserves to be knocked. It was an absolute pleasure watching him battle in a Celtics uniform, as he turned himself into an All-Star and an MVP candidate while carrying the team to the playoffs and, ultimately, to the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Thomas deserves a max contract. And I do believe he’ll get it somewhere, when he becomes a free agent next summer. But let’s be real. Thomas is also battling a hip injury. And at the age of 28, he’s three years older than Irving.
If the Celtics weren’t going to give Thomas a max contract, then it’s a no-brainer to acquire an elite point guard who’s only 25 years old with two years left on his current contract. There’s also a player option on a potential third year for Irving, but the point is, you take the younger player with more years left on the contract any day of the week, if the talent matches up. And it does.
While Thomas finished third in the NBA in scoring, averaging 28.9 points per game last season, Irving averaged 25.2, which, to put that in perspective, was the same as Kevin Durant’s 25 points-per-game average last year.
Irving also shot 40 percent from the three-point line last season, while Thomas shot 38 percent from behind the arc.
We could talk all day about Irving’s elite shooting and his ability to finish around the rim arguably better than anyone else in the league. But it’s his postseason performances that jump off the screen and make him a stud.
Irving helped the Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 deficit and defeat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. LeBron James obviously played a major role in Cleveland winning that championship, but Irving didn’t necessarily play the role of “Robin” to James’ “Batman.”
He was more than just a sidekick to James. Irving averaged 27 points per game in those Finals, which included a 41-point performance in a Game 5 win in Golden State, where he went 5-of-7 from three-point range.
In 52 career playoff games, Irving averages 23.9 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from behind the arc.
Long story short, the kid is a stud. And oh yeah, he’s only 25 years old.
Thomas was the reason the Celtics have been relevant the last couple years, and the reason that free agents like Al Horford and Gordon Hayward chose to come to Boston. But given the circumstances — age, contract, and health — if there’s an opportunity to trade him for Irving — even if you have to also give up Crowder, Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn Pick — then you have to do it.
It’s a move the Celtics would’ve been absolutely crazy not to make.
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