MIAMI — It’s not the principals that will define the blockbuster trade between Cleveland and Boston. Great point guard leaves one city for another. That seems fair.
All the other parts, they will tell the story.
There are many ways to claim victory in the deal made Tuesday night . Kyrie Irving wanted his own team and got it, so he wins. Isaiah Thomas gets to play with LeBron James, so he wins. The Cavaliers got rid of a supposedly disgruntled star, so they won. The Celtics now won’t have to decide if Thomas is worth something like a $180 million deal next summer, so they won. It’s all semantics.
But look past all that.
In the end, Cleveland won. James won, too.
Here’s a few reasons why James will be celebrating this deal: He’ll still have a high-octane point guard; he’s getting an absurdly good defender in Jae Crowder (he could have helped the Cavs’ cause against Golden State in The Finals); he won’t be going into the season dealing with drama about Irving’s Cleveland future; this trade might even reap the Cavaliers the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft.
All good things, all edge to Cleveland.
Give the Celtics credit for being bold. Danny Ainge knew winning the Eastern Conference’s regular-season crown last season was meaningless, so he completely blew up a team that was a No. 1 seed and got hammered by the Cavaliers in the East finals. Sure, the Celtics played most of that series without Thomas, but that wasn’t going to matter. The Cavs weren’t losing that series.
So Ainge goes out and gets an All-Star point guard in Irving, after he hauls in Gordon Hayward during free agency and adds probable rookie of the year front-runner Jayson Tatum to the mix in the draft — plus gets another draft pick in either 2018 or 2019 for his trouble.
It’s not a bad deal for the Celtics. They get Irving. It’s his team. A storied franchise is in his hands and he will savor that.
It’s just a better deal for Cleveland, at least right now.
Minnesota never offered Andrew Wiggins. Miami never offered half its roster. Portland wasn’t giving up Damian Lillard. In the end the Cavs still got a star for a star, and since Thomas is only making about $6.3 million next season they got plenty of bonus parts as well to make the trade work.
It also solved one big Cleveland problem.
James’ only motivation is rings, and this move gives him just that.
He will be looking to go to the Finals for the eighth consecutive year. Only three teams in NBA history have been to four straight finals — the Lakers, the Celtics, and the Miami Heat when James was with them. Golden State will be heavy favorites to join that club next June. The Cavaliers won’t surprise many if they join them.
James will show up at camp in a couple of months and begin plotting ways to get his team back to the Finals. Had Irving still been there, James surely would have been wondering if they could make it work again. With Thomas, there won’t be a question. James and Thomas already have great respect for one another, and Thomas runs on the same prove-people-wrong gasoline that James uses.
Cleveland has been through the free-agency-is-looming dance with James before, of course. If the Cavs want to keep him next summer, they simply have to go all-in to make him as happy as possible. This trade probably wasn’t a bad start on that front.
In Boston, the Celtics will look very different this season.
Irving and Hayward are in; Thomas, Crowder, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson are out — meaning five of Boston’s seven top scorers from a No. 1 seed now play elsewhere.
The Cavs weren’t overhauled; Irving is gone, Thomas, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green arrived.
From a continuity standpoint, obvious edge to Cleveland as well.
Regardless of all these Celtics-Cavaliers fireworks, it’s still Golden State’s world and probably will be for a long time. This deal didn’t change that.
The Warriors will still be the favorites to win the last game of next season.
The first game of next season, as luck would have it, just happens to be Boston at Cleveland.
And just like that, the NBA has drama again.
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Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org