The Cleveland Cavaliers clearly are the best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, but that isn’t likely to be the case if they honor superstar point guard Kyrie Irving’s reported trade request before the 2017-18 season begins.
A report last month said Irving’s list of preferred trade destinations included the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks. However, former Cavs general manager David Griffin suggested during a Monday appearance on ESPN’s “The Jump” that the Celtics are among the teams on Irving’s list.
The fact that Griffin mentioned the Celtics twice does make it seem like Boston actually is one of the teams Irving would like to join if traded.
Giving up All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas and draft picks for Irving wouldn’t hurt Boston’s ability to compete now and long-term. The C’s have a roster built to win now with veterans such as Thomas, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford in the prime of their careers, in addition to young players still a ways from reaching their potential, including Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart.
But draft picks and Thomas won’t be enough for Irving. For starters, the salaries don’t match, and Cleveland probably would demand more for a 25-year-old superstar entering his prime.
One of Tatum and Brown, both of whom are talented and versatile wings, probably would need to be part of an Irving trade package. The Cavs need help on the wing if they are going to beat the Golden State Warriors in an NBA Finals. That’s why acquiring Paul George was something Cleveland worked on, and reportedly believed to have agreed on, before the Indiana Pacers forward was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The question worth asking is if Irving is enough of an upgrade at point guard over Thomas, especially if Thomas, Brown/Tatum, draft picks and possibly more would be needed to acquire the Cavs star.
Irving is three years younger than Thomas, and also is signed for two more seasons with a player option for 2019-20. Thomas is able to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and is coming off a hip injury. Irving has a concerning injury history, though, as he missed most of his freshman campaign at Duke and never has played more than 75 games in a single season for Cleveland.
Thomas averaged 28.8 points per game last season, good for third-most in the league, while Irving averaged a career-high 25.2 points per game. Their career 3-point and field goal percentages both are within two percent of each other, and their career scoring averages are within 2.5 points.
Each player leaves a lot to be desired as a perimeter defender, and that isn’t likely to change.
Overall, the Celtics wouldn’t be upgrading enough to justify giving up an All-Star point guard, good young players and/or draft picks for Irving. If New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis became available, that kind of package makes more sense. But it doesn’t make sense for Irving, who despite being an elite and arguably top-10 player, doesn’t make Boston significantly better if the price is very steep.
The Celtics would be better served holding on to Brown and Tatum and following the current plan of winning now while simultaneously building for the future.
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