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NBA AM: Kyrie, The Brooklyn Pick, And LeBron

Steve Kyler addresses why Kyrie Irving had to be traded and how it may impact LeBron’s future.

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Kyrie, The Brooklyn Pick and LeBron

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics consummated a rare August blockbuster trade that will land Kyrie Irving in Boston while shipping All-Star Isaiah Thomas, all-purpose swingman Jae Crowder and rookie Ante Zizic (the 23rd pick in the 2016 NBA draft) to Cleveland. While the players coming to Cleveland in the deal are interesting, the unprotected 2018 draft pick included in the deal (by way of the Brooklyn Nets) may be the gem of the deal, or it might not, depending on how Brooklyn fares this season.

While we’ve analyzed this deal on site already, there are a few additional things worth noting, so let’s dig in.

Kyrie Was Done With Cleveland

There was hope that maybe the Kyrie Irving situation would become salvageable and that after a couple of conversations, he’d climb back into the boat. However, over the last month, as news of his desire leaked, Kyrie stopped talking to the Cavs, according to sources close to the situation. In fact, there was very little communication from Kyrie’s side of things after he met with the team in early July and asked to be moved.

The Cavs tried finding deals out West, with sources saying they worked the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets pretty hard, but were unable to get the right combination of assets into a deal. There were some talks with the San Antonio Spurs and the LA Clippers too, but they also did not have the right mix of assets to get the Cavs moving. Once things out West dried up, the Cavs shifted focus to the Boston Celtics, who logged early Irving interest in July.

The deal with the Celtics came together fairly quickly, and while some may say the Celtics offered too much for Irving, the cap math required a deal of this size, especially if Thomas was going to be a part of it.

The Cavs reported pushed pretty hard for the inclusion of rookie Jason Tatum, but Boston was unwilling to include him, that’s where the draft pick came into play.

The Cavs would rather not have included Crowder, but again the cap math made him the only tradable option that fit the salary slot needed to complete the deal.

Celtics president Danny Ainge said his club had done tremendous homework on Irving and were comfortable that they knew what they were getting both in terms of the player, but also regarding his mindset as a teammate.

Sources close to the Irving side of things said he really struggled with the age difference between his teammates in Cleveland and never felt a real connection there. The same source said he seemed excited to be joining a team with so many guys closer to his age and being in a situation where he can have genuine team connections, especially with a group that would view him as a team leader, not the team’s little brother.

There have been reports that the Cavs motivations to pull the trigger were tied to the notion that Irving was not going to report to training camp, which made pulling the trigger on the trade an absolute must.

As the dust settles on this situation, the prevailing thought from many sides is that Irving was basically finished in Cleveland and that the relationship was beyond repair.

When you look at the return in the context of having to move a player, the Cavaliers did very well. Not only in getting quality players, but they also generated a $5.8 million Traded Player Exception and reduced their Luxury Tax bill by what seems to be $29.1 million.

Not a bad return on a poisoned situation.

The Brooklyn Pick Is a Mystery

The NBA Lottery system is a cruel bed fellow. Historically, the worst team doesn’t usually land the first overall pick. In many situations, unprotected picks that were traded to other teams turn up the most lottery gold. So, the fact that Cleveland was able to pry the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 pick out of Boston, unprotected, is an interesting part of the deal.

Let’s start with the projected 2018 NBA Draft class. The headliners seem to be Missouri freshman Michael Porter, Jr., a big do-everything small forward type, Duke freshman Marvin Bagley, who could be the most athletically skilled big man in recent years, Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton, Real Madrid’s Luka Doncic and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.

The problem with the projected 2018 draft crop is it’s not nearly as deep in talent as say this past draft, meaning if the Brooklyn pick drops out of the top five, the player coming to Cleveland may not be what you’d normally expect out of a high lottery pick.

For the Cavaliers, any lottery talent is good lottery talent, and landing the Brooklyn pick also gives them the option of trading their own 2018 pick. If the Cavs wanted to pack their own pick with a player to shed additional contract dollars or try and grab another talent, that is now possible, as is re-trading the Brooklyn pick. Draft pick trade rules only require the Cavs to have the ability to draft in 2018, not specifically requiring them to use their own pick.

Then there is the Brooklyn Nets. While many weren’t looking, the Nets have assembled a pretty respectable young squad, led by a promising young coach. It’s unlikely the Nets are making the playoffs, but when you survey the NBA, the Nets have a better chance at winning 30 games this season than the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls. The question becomes: Are the Nets better than the LA Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic or Philadelphia 76ers? The smart money says the Nets are closer to the second grouping than the first. The question for Cleveland is where do they ultimately land?

If the Nets can get out to a quick start, the value of that Brooklyn pick might drop a little. It still might be good for the Cavs, but maybe not the lottery gem last year’s Brooklyn pick was.

The Cavs do have the option of re-trading that pick, they can also add their own protections on it if they wanted to.

If history is any indicator, the ping-pong balls may favor the Cavaliers regardless of where the Nets finish. However, given how cruel the Basketball Gods tend to be, missing out on the good players with the Brooklyn pick, losing Kyrie Irving and possibly more would be a tragedy worthy of Aristotle, which makes this Brooklyn pick an interesting mystery.

LeBron’s Silence

Unfortunately, social media has made every action newsworthy. Equally, we’re now to the point where non-action is news, too. Cavs star LeBron has tweeted or “Gram’d” about many things this week, but he has not commented about the trade his team consummated or the players that will be joining him. Don’t get caught in this trap.

Sources close to the situation say that new Cavs GM Koby Altman spoke with LeBron on Tuesday and that he is excited to have closure on the situation with Irving. The same source said LeBron had hoped that the relationship could be repaired, but James understood the desire on Irving’s part to be his own guy.

What has not changed, and likely won’t, is LeBron’s stance on his future. While many around the periphery are saying the same thing—he is gone in July—the stance from James’ side is that he enjoys having options. One of the things LeBron has crafted for himself is the ability to make his own choices and steer his own career and not be beholden to anyone. The power and the freedom are liberating for him, and he’s not giving that up. That does not mean it’s 100 percent decided he’s out, but what does keep coming up is that LeBron is not wasting his remaining years. So, the onus is on Cleveland to not only get back to a fourth NBA Finals, but to be in a real position to win against the Golden State Warriors.

That is the deciding factor.

It’s easy to jump forward and say there is no chance that Cleveland beats the Warriors in a seven-game series and that we should pack LeBron’s bags, but the truth is the 82-game schedule can create a lot of unexpected things. No one saw the Boston Celtics taking the top spot in the East a season ago or the Rockets being as dominate in the West as they were. So, while it seems like a foregone conclusion—and it might play out that way—James’ decision on his future will come after it’s decided, even if the likely outcome is clear today.

Keep an eye out for the annual Basketball Insiders Season Previews. The first wave will drop on September 7, with new teams dropping every day. The Insiders previews are some of the most in-depth looks at each NBA team as you’ll find anywhere and they start in less than two weeks.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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