BOSTON -- When it comes to trades, we often associate the winner of the deal with which team wound up with the best overall player.
When the Celtics-Cavaliers trade was made two years ago, Kyrie Irving and the Celtics were the winners by a mile.
And now, on the two-year anniversary of the deal, the Celtics still come out on top…but not for the reason you might be thinking.
In his time with the Celtics, Irving checked off most of the boxes in terms of being what the C's needed.
But by the end of his time with the Green Team, Irving looked more like he had checked out and was mentally on to the next team.
Even with all the leadership issues Boston had under Irving’s watch, even with all the issues that led to more whining by this crew than winning, the Celtics did the right thing in making the trade for one reason and one reason only.
Because the alternative to not doing that deal would have kept Boston on a treadmill of mediocrity, which is basketball purgatory.
Isaiah Thomas’ injuries were more severe than most thought, which meant that if Celtics kept their best player at the time, they would likely have been without his services for a while.
Remember, after he was traded to Cleveland, Thomas did not suit up in a game for the Cavs until Jan. 2, 2018
And if not for the trade, there were going to be legit chemistry issues looming ahead with Jae Crowder and the rest of the team’s wings.
Crowder came to Boston as a trade throw-in from Dallas, a player that few envisioned would blossom into the player he became with the Celtics.
To his credit, Crowder worked his way into being a reliable two-way player who provided some much-needed talent and toughness for Boston.
For him to have come as far as he did and then find himself battling for minutes off the bench with more players at his position than ever looking to gobble up minutes … both he and the Celtics deserved better than that.
So, moving Crowder took all the guesswork out of who would be the odd man out between himself, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and incoming rookie Jayson Tatum.
Still, the biggest win for Boston over Cleveland in the deal was hope.
Irving is a dynamic talent, the kind that gave the Celtics every reason to believe that they could win an NBA title with him in the fold.
As much as fans around New England loved Isaiah Thomas, there was always a belief that he could only take you so far as the best player on the team.
As for the Cavs, the unprotected pick from Boston was seen as the trade equalizer if it would have been among the top three or four picks.
Instead, the Nets became more of a grind-it-out team that won more than expected, which led to the pick from Boston (via Brooklyn) falling to eighth overall.
Cleveland wound up selecting Collin Sexton. who had a good rookie season; good enough to earn a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie second team.
He’s good, but he’s no Irving, which is why it’s hard to see a pathway in this deal that one could declare that the Cavs came away victorious.
They traded away the best player in the deal.
The two best players they acquired were traded away just a few months later after being picked up.
And the draft pick wasn’t anywhere close to where it needed to be in order for it to truly have the kind of difference-making impact Cleveland was hoping for.
So, as we reflect upon the Boston-Cleveland trade, we’re reminded that the winds of change sometimes sway away from one team on the night of the trade and toward the other a couple of years later.
This ain’t one of those deals.
Boston came away with the win on draft night.
And now two years later, the Celtics still won the deal.
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