In what continues to be a most tumultuous and eventful NBA offseason, perhaps its biggest move happened last night as Kyrie Irving was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick. This is a move that will dramatically alter the NBA and could have an enormous effect on what happens not just next season but well into the future. Mike Prada at SBNation wrote, and quite correctly, that this trade is one that made sense for both teams and so thinking about this in terms of "winners" and "losers" doesn't seem all that useful. The Cavaliers remove an unwelcome bit of drama and add a player who can contribute much of what Irving did in Thomas and a strong wing defender in Crowder, not to mention Brooklyn's 2018 first round pick. Meanwhile, the Celtics acquired one of the big stars in the league and put together a nice core of their own in Irving-Hayward-Horford-Jaylen Brown-Jayson Tatum while also avoiding having to pay Thomas an expensive long-term contract. Personally, I like the trade a bit more for the Celtics than the Cavaliers (they are acquiring the best player and one of the best players in the league and thus I would give the edge to them) but I do think both teams came out looking good and it was a move that was logical for each side.
However, while both teams appeared to have done well in this trade and dealt with problems or issues they might have had, I don't know how much it helps them towards bigger goals (like winning a championship). Perhaps this is the Warriors fan overconfidence showing but I don't see how either of these moves positions either team to better compete with Golden State. The Celtics, who have won the past two seasons when they've come to Oracle (which is no small feat), have let the two reasons they've been able to play the Warriors so tough go in Crowder and Avery Bradley (traded to the Pistons to make room for Gordon Hayward). While the team now has more offense by adding Irving, trying to beat the Warriors by trying to overtake their offense is not a winning strategy.
The Cavaliers, by acquiring Crowder, did position themselves to better defend the Warriors but it underestimates just how big of a loss it will be to not have Irving. Yes, Isaiah Thomas had an amazing season last season (statistically, his season was comparable to Kyrie's) but he is coming off of a major hip injury in last year's playoffs (there are already concerns about his health and, as many have noted, Thomas is one of the shorter and smaller players in the league and thus he's a bit more prone to his body breaking down) and is someone who is an extreme defensive liability. Thus, if you're Cleveland and putting him on the court, you are giving up a lot defensively to get that offense (and if your ultimate measuring stick is beating the Warriors, doubling down on offense is not the best way to go about doing that) and then if you take him off the court you are giving up a lot on offense and taking what you traded your second best player for and keeping him on the bench.
Of course, we will have to wait for the season to actually start before we can properly evaluate this trade. Though I do think it makes things a bit more interesting and exciting in the Eastern Conference (those Boston-Cleveland games next should be extra intense, and imagine if they end up meeting in the playoffs...) I question whether anything has changed in terms of the hierarchy in the league and if this has made both teams better or, dare I say it, if it's caused both teams to take a slight step back. Again, we won't know until the season starts...