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NBA PM: Brooklyn Holds All of the Cards

How the Nets do next season may ultimately determine who won the Kyrie Irving trade, writes Cody Taylor.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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Shockwaves were sent out on Tuesday when news surfaced that the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to trade All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics.

Given Irving’s reported trade request last month, the trade itself wasn’t necessarily surprising but it was perhaps more surprising to see the assets the Cavaliers were able to acquire in the process.

In the trade, which has officially been announced by both teams, the Cavaliers acquired Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 unprotected first-round draft pick via the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Irving.

Once Irving’s request for a trade leaked, many believed the Celtics could be a potential destination given their stockpile of draft picks and available young players. In that same breath, many were curious to see if Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge would be willing to part ways with the team’s 2018 first-round picked they had previously acquired from the Nets.

Ainge opted to cash in now on his long-coveted draft pick in order to help the Celtics become more dangerous in the Eastern Conference. While the pick is now in the hands of the Cavaliers, the NBA will again be watching to see where the Nets finish this season and where that pick may fall.

Of course, the Celtics acquired the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft after having the right to swap their pick with the Nets’ pick. The Celtics would eventually swap that No. 1 pick with the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 overall pick and another future first-round pick.

As plenty of trade grades have been released regarding Tuesday’s Cavaliers and Celtics trade, it will be that 2018 first-round draft pick from the Nets that will truly dictate which team won this deal.

For the Cavaliers, acquiring Thomas, Crowder and Zizic likely keeps the team near the top of the Eastern Conference and it also helps fortify the team’s bench. Assuming Thomas can return to playing at a high level following a severe hip injury, the Cavaliers don’t figure to lose that much of a step offensively.

Crowder figures to give the team the defensive wing that they’ve desperately needed. LeBron James is by far the team’s best defender, but even he has his deficiencies at times on the defensive end. Crowder will bring versatility to the lineup and an added shooter on the perimeter.

By making this deal with the Celtics, the Cavaliers accomplished both of the things they needed to do. They added players that will help keep the team in contention this season and give the organization a building block for the future should James leave in free agency next summer.

Thomas and Crowder will keep the Cavaliers in contention this season, while acquiring Zizic helps plan for the future. He may not see huge NBA minutes right away for the Cavaliers given how the team is positioned for a championship, but he is an asset for the Cavaliers nonetheless.

As a team that is aiming to compete with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers’ bench unit greatly lacked depth last season and they helped address that issue in this trade. The Cavaliers’ starting unit outscored the Warriors’ starters in the Finals, but the bench was easily Cleveland’s biggest weakness.

As both teams seemingly improved with this trade, the pick the Cavaliers receive via the Nets could be what ultimately gives them the edge over the Celtics in this deal. With a talented class expected to enter the draft next year, the Cavaliers could potentially obtain a highly touted prospect.

But how bad will the Nets be again this year? They secured the worst record in the NBA last season, but appear to have improved this offseason. They acquired Allen Crabbe, Timofey Mozgov, DeMarre Carroll and D’Angelo Russell via trades, while they boast a young core with Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson among others.

There is no question that the Nets have been among the worst teams in the NBA over the past few years. The team began to show signs of life last year with Jeremy Lin at point guard, but injuries limited Lin to just 36 games played. Many are beginning to project the Nets as a team that could begin to move up in the Eastern Conference.

With a few teams projected to take a step back this season in the Eastern Conference, the Nets could find themselves on the rise. Of course, they’ll be tasked with integrating quite a few new pieces to the roster and that could put them at a disadvantage at the beginning of the season, but the Nets have seemingly a real chance to improve this season.

By all accounts, it appears as though the Cavaliers have helped lay down the foundation for the future. Dealing a player in Irving that wanted a change of scenery was absolutely the right move by the front office. Keeping Irving around during training camp and the regular season would have created a huge distraction for the team and a media circus for each game.

It’s also not a sure thing that James will leave in free agency next summer. Although there have been plenty of rumors suggesting he’s gone, he’s still under contract for one more season and could be inclined to re-sign with the Cavaliers should this new group prove capable of winning at the highest leve moving forward. James and Thomas can be free agents and the team will get an opportunity to re-sign both players.

Keeping James or not, the Cavaliers did what they needed to do this offseason and it figures to set up an interesting season in The Land. Now, can the Nets help them out?

The Cavaliers will certainly be waiting to find out.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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