Changing of the Guard

Blockbuster Deal Sends Kyrie to Beantown for Bounty Including Isaiah

If you’re a Cavaliers fan – or a Celtics fan or a basketball fan – you’re probably wishing that October 17 was pretty much … RIGHT NOW.

The Wine & Gold have had some heart-pounding rollouts over the past few years. The 2014 opener against New York that marked LeBron James’ homecoming. Their return home against Miami for the opener following the valiant Finals run of 2015. And last year’s tip-off featuring the Ring Ceremony and raising of the Championship banner.

But this year there’s going to be a little something different in the air when the Cavs and Celtics start each other’s season for the ninth time in each franchise’s respective history.

On Tuesday afternoon – among the relative calm of the NBA offseason – the Cavaliers consummated one of – if not THE – biggest blockbusters in franchise history, dealing Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first rounder.

The deal centers on a pair of point guards at the very top of their game, as well as the Conference’s two top squads who’ve locked horns in two of the previous three postseasons. But the Cavaliers also get a rugged backup for LeBron and a pair of pieces for their future, including the unprotected first round pick of a team that’s averaged 20.5 wins over the past two seasons.

With the offseason addition of Gordon Hayward from Utah and now Irving – a four-time All-Star – the Conference could once again be a two-horse race. And while last year’s regular season seemed like a bit of a drag, with the C’s lurking and players from both sides of the deal looking to prove a point, this campaign should be anything but.

Last year, in 76 games, Thomas averaged a career-best 28.9 ppg – good for third-best in the NBA and second-best in Celtics history – along with 2.7 boards and 5.9 assists.
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

In just a six-season run on the North Coast, Kyrie built a prolific resume.

After being selected with the No. 1 pick out of Duke in the 2011 Draft – with the Cavs one year removed from LeBron’s departure for Miami and a dismal 2010 campaign – Irving made an immediate impact. He was the 2012 Rookie of the Year, winning MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend in Orlando. The following February, he made his first All-Star team, winning the Three-Point Shootout the previous evening in Houston. In his next All-Star appearance, the next season in New Orleans, he was named the game’s MVP.

Dubbed “Mr. Fourth Quarter” for his late-game exploits, Kyrie put on some completely jaw-dropping performances in a Cavaliers uniform. During an especially scorching run two seasons ago, Irving led the Cavs past Portland with a 55-point masterpiece only to top it six weeks later – going off for 57 points in a thrilling overtime win over the Spurs in San Antonio.

But Cavalier fans will also cherish Kyrie for his heroics in the 2016 Finals – teaming with LeBron to score 41 points apiece to stay alive in Game 5 and canning the biggest shot in franchise history – draining the triple with 53 seconds to play, giving the Cavaliers their first NBA title and the city of Cleveland its first title in 52 years.

Kyrie will now flash arguably the Association’s best handle on the parquet floors in Boston, a city where his father played his college ball.

If Irving entered the league to automatic adulation and fanfare as the top pick in the 2011 Draft, Isaiah Thomas – the last pick of that Draft – came in both literally and figuratively, standing just 5-9, under the radar.

“The 6-6, 235-pounder from Marquette averaged 13.9 points on a career-best 46 percent shooting in 72 starts last year with Boston.”

Joe G. on Jae Crowder

Thomas improved steadily through his first three seasons in Sacramento, averaging 20.3 ppg in 2013-14. But that offseason, the Kings sent Thomas to Phoenix in exchange for the great Alex Oriakhi (who never played an NBA game) and a trade exception. Halfway through his first season with Phoenix, however, Thomas was dealt to the Celtics in a three-team deal, nearly winning Sixth Man honors after averaging 19.0 points per in 21 games with Boston.

In his next season as a starter, Thomas earned the first of two All-Star nods. Last year, in 76 games, Thomas averaged a career-best 28.9 ppg – good for third-best in the NBA and second-best in Celtics history – along with 2.7 boards and 5.9 assists. An All-Star and All-NBA Second Team selection last year, the former Washington Huskie set career-highs in field goal, three-point and free throw percentage. His .909 mark from the stripe was good for second-best in the league.

Jae Crowder – who was actually drafted originally by the Cavaliers in 2012 before being dealt to Dallas – is very familiar to the Cavaliers after some (often heated) Playoff and regular season battles over the past three seasons. The 6-6, 235-pounder from Marquette averaged 13.9 points on a career-best 46 percent shooting in 72 starts last year with Boston.

Crowder provides the Cavaliers a physical, durable, efficient backup for LeBron heading into the 2017-18 season.

Ante Zizic, tabbed by Boston with the 23rd overall pick in 2016, is a true seven-footer who doesn’t reach drinking age until January. Born in Croatia, Zizic was named the 2015-16 Adriatic League Top Prospect, an honor previous given to impressive recent imports like Nikola Jokic and Dario Saric.

Tuesday’s monster deal was one of the biggest in Cavaliers history – exchanging All-Stars in their respective prime. And it’ll reshape both teams for the foreseeable future.

The Eastern Conference just got a whole lot more intriguing on Tuesday afternoon. How will Kyrie fare in Beantown? And what’s in store for Cleveland’s Big 3.0?

We’ll start finding out those answers in 55 long days and what promises to be one incredible night at The Q.

The only thing we can definitively say right now is this: It’s been one heck of a summer for Koby Altman.

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