Culture of Hoops

Unpacking The Kyrie Irving Trade

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Danny Ainge finally cashed his chips in for his superstar. Patience is a virtue and Ainge’s willingness to wait has paid off in the form of Kyrie Irving. This is the first trade in recent memory in which the top two teams in the same conference not only agreed to a trade, but a blockbuster at that.

The Celtics sent cult hero Isaiah Thomas,  along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and an unprotected Brooklyn Nets 2018 first round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers. To say this trade is controversial will not do it justice. Check every crevice of Twitter, NBA subreddit, or any group of basketball fans and you will find half praising the Cavs and half praising the Celtics.

Both teams won this trade given the context of the situation–Kyrie wanted out and LeBron may be on the way out. Looking at this strictly from a business perspective the Celtics won. Before we get there let’s see why this isn’t a bad move for the Cavs.

The Carmelo Anthony trade remains the gold standard for trading a star player. That type of haul for a star isn’t happening again unless James Dolan is somehow involved. With that in mind the Cavs got quite the package in return for their 25-year-old star. Headlined by Isaiah Thomas, who will slip into Kyrie’s role within the big three of LeBron and Kevin Love, the Cavs do not get dramatically worse. Thomas is an All-Star and top ten point guard who will fit in alongside LeBron.

Jae Crowder gives the Cavs the much needed wing defender they need to fight the Warriors one last time. He’s not going to stop Kevin Durant, but you have to feel a bit more confident in Crowder’s ability to contain KD than Love or anyone not named LeBron in the Finals. Ante Zizic, the young big man from overseas, will be a nice bench piece who can come in for Tristan Thompson off the bench and (hopefully) clean the glass. For those of you that have no clue who Zizic is, here you go.

The golden egg in this coupe however is that unprotected Brooklyn Nets 2018 pick. It serves as both safety net and deal sweetener. If LeBron and IT decide to leave next season the Cavs can start their rebuild with an extra first round pick which could result in Michael Porter Jr., or Marvin Bagley. In the event LeBron decided to stay the Cavs could use that pick in a trade package for another star.

Now to the Celtics. Any time you land the best player in the deal you win the trade. Ainge was patient, hiding in the bushes like a lion preying on a gazelle. He took a lot of shit for not pulling the trigger on Jimmy Butler and Paul George. Well it looks like he knew what he was doing all along.

Ainge chose to cash his winnings from the Billy King Heist of 2013 and he did it for the perfect star. For those that say the Celtics overpaid, need I remind you that the Cavs were initially targeting talented rookie Jayson Tatum in the deal. Also, after seeing Butler and George get flipped for a pack of gum and a fidget spinner it’s easy to see this as a gross overpay. Keeping Tatum is huge as he figures to be a major piece alongside Jaylen Brown on the wing.

Including the Nets’ pick is a high price–if you think the Nets will really be that bad. The East isn’t that good in case you hadn’t noticed. The addition of D’Angelo Russell certainly doesn’t make the Nets title contenders but they can definitely compete for a playoff spot next season. If that happens Ainge looks like Bobby Axelrod offloading Ice Juice stock.

I’m not suggesting Kyrie is a better player than Butler or George but given the situation, he is the exact star you want if you’re the Celtics. He’s 25 years old and unlike Butler or George has not fully entered his prime. He already has a ring, plenty of Finals experience and is proven to be someone you go to for a big bucket.

The best part is this move only extends the title window. The Celtics now have a young team that can go toe-to-toe with the Cavs as well as a squad ready to take over if LeBron heads West. A core of Kyrie, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Brown and Tatum with Brad Stevens pulling the strings is an elite squad in the making.

Now that we unpacked that here are some quick conspiracy theories as to why I believe LeBron is behind all of this. How else can you explain this?

Shaq would have never done this to Kobe. Either LeBron is a major phony/psychopath or he gave a Kyrie a heads up. But the real question is why.

No way LeBron allows the Cavs to even talk to the Celtics unless he is planning something. Spoiler: LeBron is always planning something. He’s the Gus Fring of the NBA. He’s always planning three moves ahead and getting Kyrie out of Cleveland leads us to two conclusions.

The popular theory is LeBron will be playing basketball in LA in 2018. The more fun theory I found on Reddit is LeBron is pressuring Dan Gilbert into selling the team.

Let’s start with the boring and more realistic theory. LeBron is definitely going to the Lakers next season. He didn’t attend a Lonzo Ball Summer League game because he happened to be in the area. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a client of LeBron’s close friend Rich Paul, did not get a lifeboat contract out of goodwill. This all means something.

Having Kyrie jump to the Celtics while LeBron knows he will be a Laker leads to the resurrection of the NBA’s greatest rivalry. Lonzo vs. Fultz sounded appealing in June, but Kyrie vs. LeBron will have our eyes glued to the TV set. Lakers vs. Celtics will once again be the money fight in basketball which has to make the league extremely happy.

On to the more fun theory. What if LeBron’s return home was for more than bringing Cleveland a title. What if LeBron’s mission was to take Gilbert’s team away from him. LeBron has never gotten over Gilbert’s infamous Comic Sans letter and what better revenge then taking the Cavs from him.

How can this happen exactly? For one Gilbert has no ties to Cleveland. Gilbert is a Detroit guy. Motown is both his home and place of business. When LeBron agreed to come back to Cleveland he initially wanted Gilbert to sell the team to the Pistons’ ownership group and have Gilbert take over the Pistons. That never happened and neither did Gilbert and LeBron’s relationship.

What if LeBron never stopped trying to push Gilbert out. In the three years he’s been back LeBron has forced Gilbert to rethink the term “open the checkbook”. Now that Kyrie has been shipped out for Thomas who can also leave next season, it’s reasonable to believe the Cavs will once again be bottom dwellers when LeBron leaves.

That only increases LeBron’s leverage to head to LA or convince Gilbert to sell the team to an ownership group led by LeBron. Before you call LeBron a monster remember he built the Cavs brand and is the sole reason Cleveland has a title. He can do whatever the fuck he wants which is exactly what he’s doing. The story may be Kyrie today, but LeBron is the guy pulling the strings.

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