The Cavaliers’ Oct. 17 season opener against the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena should be a doozy.
In what qualifies as a blockbuster deal, the Cavs and new general manager Koby Altman traded disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving to Boston on Tuesday night for a package that included point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Cleveland will also get veteran forward Jae Crowder, 20-year-old center Ante Zizic and an unprotected first-round pick in 2018. That pick originally belonged to Brooklyn, which finished with the worst record in the NBA last season, so the Cavs will almost certainly be in the draft lottery.
“This trade needed to include both players and assets that we felt strongly could help us continue to compete for championships and we believe it does,” Altman said via a Cavs press release.
ESPN.com reported the deal could ultimately cut Cleveland’s luxury tax penalty from $78.4 million to $59.2 million next season. The Cavs currently have 17 players under contract, meaning they must trade or release two.
There were reports Altman was trying to pry away talented rookie Jayson Tatum, a Duke product chosen by Boston with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but Cleveland’s bargaining power was limited due to Irving’s July request to be traded.
“On behalf of the entire franchise, I want to thank Kyrie for the six impressive years he spent in Cleveland wearing the Cavaliers uniform,” team owner Dan Gilbert said. “From the moment we won the 2011 NBA lottery that put us in position to draft Kyrie to ‘The Shot’ that sealed our first NBA championship (in 2016) and all the electrifying play that made him a joy to watch, ‘excitement’ was always in the air when it came to Kyrie Irving.”
The 5-foot-9 Thomas, a two-time All-Star who will earn $6.26 million in the final year of his contract, isn’t quite the equal of four-time All-Star Irving, who is 6 inches taller and, at 25, three years younger, but he’s extremely talented.
Thomas, however, is coming off a hip injury suffered in March, which he aggravated in the postseason. Reports out of Boston on Monday said he was due for another hip scan prior to training camp, and the Cavs are anxious to get him in town for a physical.
Thomas, who didn’t have surgery on the hip in the offseason, missed Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference finals vs. the Cavs, who won the best-of-seven series in five games before falling to Golden State in five in the NBA Finals.
The point guard, whose sister died in a car crash just prior to the start of the postseason, was originally hurt March 15 vs. Minnesota and missed two games. He aggravated the injury in Game 6 of the conference semifinals vs. Washington, but returned to play in Game 7 and in the first two games vs. Cleveland.
“I think he’s very special,” Cavs superstar LeBron James said during the playoff series with Boston. “He’s a special guy, special talent, unique talent.”
Thomas, a University of Washington product chosen by Sacramento with the 60th and last pick in the 2011 draft, is coming off his best season. He averaged 28.9 points and 5.9 assists in 2016-17.
“Isaiah embodied what it meant to be a Celtic,” Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in a statement. “He captured fans’ hearts not only with his spirit, but his personality.”
Irving averaged a career-high 25.2 points and 5.8 assists last season and hit the game-winning 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals vs. the Warriors, but he asked to be traded earlier this summer because he wanted to be the focal point of a team, which wasn’t going to happen with James in Cleveland.
The Duke product, who agreed to waive a trade kicker reportedly worth $3 million in order to complete the deal, has three years and $60 million left on his contract but can opt out prior to the 2019-20 season.
Irving, who was drafted by Cleveland with the first pick the same year Thomas was chosen at No. 60, was NBA Rookie of the Year in 2011-12, and his skills could close the gap between the Celtics and Cavs in the Eastern Conference.
“Kyrie is one of the best scorers in the NBA,” Ainge said. “He has proven that on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, the last three years. He’s been an NBA champion, an Olympic gold medalist and a four-time All-Star. For all he’s accomplished, we think his best years are ahead of him.”
Boston also added All-Star small forward Gordon Hayward to a team that already included All-Star center Al Horford and finished with the best record in the East last season (53-28).
Cleveland (51-31), though, will likely still be considered the team to beat in the East with four-time league MVP James, Thomas and power forward Kevin Love.
The 27-year-old Crowder, a 6-6 small forward, should supply some needed toughness and athleticism. He averaged 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting .463 from the field last season, including .390 on 3-pointers.
“Jae’s toughness was contagious for our team,” Ainge said. “He improved his skills each year, but it’s his energy and fight that will be remembered.”
In 2015, current Cavs shooting guard J.R. Smith was suspended for two games for taking a swing at Crowder as Cleveland was completing a first-round sweep of the Celtics.
“Isaiah and Jae have been a huge part of our success,” Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said. “Isaiah’s playoff performance under very difficult circumstances will live on in history.”
The 6-11, 250-pound Zizic, who was born in Croatia, was taken by Boston with the 23rd pick in the 2016 draft, but didn’t sign with the Celtics until July 1, 2017. He recently played for Boston’s summer league team and averaged 8.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 19.9 minutes a game.
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