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Anderson: It's clear that the Celtics have already won the Kyrie Irving trade

Ty Anderson
November 15, 2017 - 9:06 pm

Unlike WEEI colleague John Tomase, who I’m pretty sure is off getting fitted for his own personal Kyrie Irving mask somewhere, I was a Doubting (Isaiah) Thomas (Fan) when the Irving-to-Boston trade was first rumored and when it became reality.

In addition to personally being all in on Thomas as a franchise cornerstone, I was wary when it came to Irving’s potential fit within the C’s system, as well as the cost to pry him loose from your chief rival. The latter was a tough one to stomach, and I’m not talking about the 2045 second-round pick that Danny Ainge sent to Cleveland to make them shut the hell up about Isaiah's hip concerns.

In total, the real assets the Celtics parted with in the Irving deal were Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn first-round pick. Otherwise known as your top scorer and legitimate MVP candidate from a year ago, your top three-point shooter (at least if you went by the percentages) and versatile piece of your team-concept puzzle, a big expected to improve your straight-up terrible rebounding game from a season ago, and a draft pick that very well could have given you the No. 1 overall for the second year in a row.

But the more I watch Irving, and the more I watch the Cavs for that matter, the more it hits me— It's over. I don't need to wait until the possible Eastern Conference Finals meeting between the Celtics and Cavaliers, or Gordon Hayward's return to know how this is going to shake out. There’s just no way in hell that the Celtics are going to lose this trade. Not now, (and probably) not ever. 

Irving’s impact on the Celtics almost goes without saying, and that’s just 15 games into his time here. They are a ridiculously better team with the 25-year-old on the court, his defensive game has appeared to drastically improve under Brad Stevens, and he’s really meant the world to the all around production of C’s leader Al Horford. Irving’s 20.6 points per game are also tops among all Celtics, too, and that’s with Irving shooting just 44.1 percent from the field out of the gate, which is his lowest mark since 2013-14.

Irving The Celtic can and will get better. I think that’s sort of assumed and expected, especially as he gets completely comfortable with his teammates and new surroundings. And when the spots and situations get bigger for the team, you just have a feeling that the 6-foot-3 Irving will be there to shine like he has routinely done in the past.

But what about the Cavs, like, as a whole?

Thomas, of course, has yet to play in a single game for the Cavaliers, and there’s no telling if he’ll be the same trash-talking, elite scorer that he was for the Celtics a year ago when he does return. It’s hard to imagine a non-surgically repaired hip just magically getting better through some rehab exercises and rest. All the extra leaks and cautions that have come out of Cleveland since I.T. first landed with the Cavaliers -- with mentions that there’s no telling if he’ll ever fully heal and that his hip has basically been deteriorating for years -- do not inspire much confidence, either.

Crowder, meanwhile, has converted on just 15 of his 49 three-point attempts out of the gate, which is a 9.2 percent drop from what he shot in a career-year for the Celtics a year ago. Also considered a defensive stopper for the Celtics, Crowder’s minus-55 ranks as the 35th-worst mark in the entire NBA through the first month of the season, and the Cleveland defense as a whole has been utterly atrocious. Opponents are shooting nearly 40 percent against the Cavaliers from downtown! 40 percent! That’s insane. There’s also something to be said for the way that the Crowder-less C’s defense has handled themselves out of the gate this season. And that something is that Crowder was probably vastly overrated by everybody in Boston.

Real talk: I’m honestly not entirely sure if Zizic even plays for this team. Did he end up getting waived for some other decrepit fossil whose best days are six years behind him? No? He’s just averaging less than four and a half minutes per night? Sounds right.

This is obviously not the ‘help’ that the Cavaliers thought they were getting from the Celts, and holes throughout the Cleveland roster have left LeBron James as the league’s second-most deployed player thus far, with 534 total minutes played. He trails the Rockets’ James Harden by just 11 minutes, and that’s because Harden has played one more game, so break it down by minutes-per-game and LeBron’s on top with 38.2 minutes per night. That paces James for over 3,100 minutes this year, which would be the first time he’s reached that milestone since his Age-22 season (11 years ago).

Best player in the world or not, there’s zero chance that this is sustainable for LeBron and the barely .500 Cavaliers. And it’s hard to imagine Thomas being the single cure, Crowder shooting his way out of three-point/defensive hell, or Zizic touching the floor enough to truly impact the Cavs to the point where LeBron is rested and recharged for another NBA Finals run.

It all spells real trouble for the Cavaliers (or what’s left of them come playoff time in a league so obviously predicated on resting stars), and sparks real hopes of dethroning ‘em for the East’s crown if you’re Irving and the Celtics, who would love nothing more.

But in Cleveland, the present struggles are somewhat accepted because of the future aspect of that Boston return (the 2018 Brooklyn pick). Well, about that.

You watched the Nets on Tuesday. You saw how truly hopeless that team is, especially with D’Angelo Russell out of action for the time being and with Jeremy Lin already done for the season. Seriously, the Nets have noted Harry Potter character Spencer Dinwiddie logging big minutes. (He’s gotta be a Hufflepuff, right?) This team is straight-up terrible, and they will continue to be just that, yes, but there are more than a few NBA teams that are somehow worse than the Nets. That means that the Brooklyn pick the C’s sent to Cleveland is not a slam dunk for the No. 1 overall pick.

And even if the Cavs luck out in the draft lottery, this is a team that would essentially start from scratch, with just seven players completely locked in for 2018-19 (James and Iman Shumpert have player options, while vets like Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose are free agents). Three of their seven locked-up talents are 30 years of age or older, too, which the Celtics of yesteryear can attest to as being anything but ideal. And for the record, gimme an old-ass trio of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett over an old-ass trio of Kyle Korver, Kevin Love, and J.R. Smith every single day of the week of every single year. It’s also hard to imagine James and Thomas staying beyond this season, especially if their play thrives while the team struggles to get out of the East or against the Warriors yet again. James because of his obvious desire to move out to the West Coast, and Thomas because of his desire to not only win, but get paid handsomely as a max player.

This is without getting into the free agent black hole a LeBron-less Cleveland becomes.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have already made good on the foundation built through their Brooklyn picks, with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in the fold and looking better by the day. Ainge by all means found ways to replace everything they ‘lost’ with the once heavy package sent to Cleveland, too, and appear lightyears ahead of everybody in the East when it comes to their ability to compete in the now while maintaining the long-term security seldom seen in today's superteam-loaded NBA. 

Oh, and all of this is with the still-improving-and-signed Kyrie in the picture.

What a win. 

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