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Before the skeptics ignite the torches, this is a trade I like for the Cavaliers as of now and it could be solid for them. However, a part of me is screaming this could be a big disaster. Yes, they gave up an all-star for an all-NBA player, a solid wing, a talented young prospect, and a potential top draft pick. Seems like a slam dunk, right? Well, let’s get into the details of the huge downside through each trade piece (except Ante Zizic) they received.
The mightiest of mice had such an incredible offensive season last year which resulted in second team all-NBA. However, there are three huge factors that could lead to a disappointing season from one of the most exciting players in the NBA.
The first of these is his hip injury. A couple days ago, Celtics’ Head Coach Brad Stevens said they won’t know Thomas’ status until September. He did not get surgery this offseason and is going into the last year of his contract. Many players have gone into contract years refusing surgery because missing a good chunk of the season could severely affect their next deal. This could hurt Isaiah’s performance both literally and figuratively.
Secondly, speaking of his contract, the Cavaliers might have to break open the bank to re-sign Thomas after next season. The list of undersized scoring guards making all-star teams past age 29 are slim (Isaiah turns 29 next season.). If LeBron stays, they will bring trucks of cash to his house to give LBJ help. If LeBron leaves, the Cavs might still want to keep Isaiah so they still have something left. Add in being injury prone and that deal could backfire big time.
Lastly, IT could disappoint next year because of a worse system around him. Under Brad Stevens, he was always in constant motion coming off picks and playing in space. Now under Tyronn Lue, the Cavs have an isolation-centric system with their ball handlers. LeBron and Kyrie were asked to breakdown the defense and make a play off their own individual greatness. While Isaiah would be great at this, he will not be as affective as he was in Boston because this system does not elevate the players. Add to the fact that after players have easily their best season, they usually follow that year with a slightly worse season at best. It is hard to see Thomas playing at or better than the level he was at this past season.
When factoring all three of these aspects in, Thomas could very well have a down year in Cleveland.
I like Jae Crowder. In the right system with the right talent around him, he is a very good NBA player. However, last year he had a down season defensively. He was constantly getting back-cut and smaller guards would constantly go around him. He wasn’t awful, but he wasn’t nearly as good as he was in 2016. With a frontcourt of Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, and LeBron James, Crowder will be asked to play a lot of 2. Since IT cannot defend a tree stump, Crowder will be asked to defend the best opposing guard. This does not bode well since he is not quick enough to guard the elite ones. He is much better as a wing defender. There will be lineups where LeBron is playing the 4 and Love or Thompson is playing the 5, which is where Crowder would thrive at playing the 3.
Like the offensive system, the Cavs’ defensive system is also much worse than Boston’s. Cleveland was one of the worst defensive teams last year due to a lack of communication, discipline, and rim protection. If Crowder was mediocre defensively for Stevens, it is hard to see that he will be better for Lue.
This is a massive X-factor. The Brooklyn Nets will probably not be the total dumpster fire they were last year. Adding D’Angelo Russell and a healthy Jeremy Lin and a weaker east could lead to 25-30 wins. Coach Kenny Atkinson had them playing hard all year so they could over-perform as well. They are still one of the five worst teams and still could lead to a top pick, but it isn’t guaranteed. Let’s go through the possible scenarios:
- The pick is top 5 and LeBron leaves in the offseason so the Cavs rebuild with that prospect.
- The pick is top 5 and the Cavaliers trade it with other pieces during the offseason for another star that complements LeBron who stays.
- The pick is not top 5 and LeBron leaves.
- The pick is traded with other pieces before the deadline for DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins, LeBron, and Isaiah all re-sign.
- The same scenario as above except LeBron leaves in free agency and one or two stay and are built around for the next season.
- The same scenario as above except all three of those stars leave.
- The pick and other pieces are traded for Marc Gasol and LeBron either stays or leaves barring how well Gasol plays.
Considering all of these possibilities, it is very possible whatever the pick turns into goes way wrong for Cleveland. If the Cavs lose LeBron and do not have a top 5 pick for the following season, they will come out major losers in the Kyrie Irving deal. Even if they do still have DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas, remember those two could not make the playoffs together in Sacramento with both putting up all-star numbers.
My take is that the acquisitions of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder will possibly disappoint. Also, the Cavs should be careful about trading the pick for a star that is on the market during the season, especially one that might not have a long-term future with the team. They will also need a little bit of luck with the Nets being one of the absolute worst teams in basketball, which could happen. Unless the Cavs get a star that can keep LeBron in Cleveland or draft a potential star for the next era, they will lose this trade badly. The safe ploy would be to keep the pick and hope it lands in the top 5, but even that is a gamble. The Cavs are stuck and the future still remains just as murky as it was before the Kyrie Irving trade.