How the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas Trade Affects the Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About

How the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas Trade Affects the Wizards

Updated: August 23, 2017

By now everyone has heard about the megatrade between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.

The obvious first question is: How does this affect the Washington Wizards?

To answer that question, we’ll examine several of the most intriguing storylines of this trade.

Boston Just Blew Themselves Up.

You know how Ted always talks about valuing continuity and developing from within? Danny Ainge don’t play that.

Al Horford. Jaylen Brown. Marcus Smart. Terry Rozier. That’s the list of returning players from Boston’s Eastern Conference Finals team. That’s it. Boston lost its best defender (Avery Bradley), its second-best defender (Jae Crowder) and the heart and soul of its team (Isaiah Thomas).

The departed are replaced by Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and rookie Jayson Tatum. This will be quite a test for Brad Stevens. The season is less than two months away and Stevens will have limited time to install his team-first system. Speaking of which…

Will Kyrie Irving Buy Into Brad Stevens’ System?

Remember, we are only in this mess because Kyrie wasn’t satisfied being a sidekick on three straight NBA Finals runs—he wanted his own team. It’s fair to ask what Kyrie means by “his own team.” If he wants to be even more ball dominant and take even more shots—which he has done in the past when LeBron is not on the floor—it’s fair to wonder whether he will welcome Stevens egalitarian offensive approach.

Will Boston’s floor-spacing suffer while Kyrie pounds the rock for 20 seconds before taking (and often making) unnecessarily difficult shots, whilst giving nary a thought to passing? Time will tell, but this is not the Brad Stevens’ way.

If Irving finds the grass is not greener in Boston, is there any reason to think he will not demand yet another trade? In other words, if multiple trips to the Finals was not enough, does Boston offer enough shot attempts to placate the mercurial guard? And if Kyrie does not sign long-term—he has two years remaining on his current contract (with a player option in the third year)—will Danny Ainge regret parting with one of his prized future assets. Speaking of which…

Danny Ainge Gave Up a Very Valuable Future First-Round Pick.

Finally, Ainge pulled the trigger on one of his heralded first-round picks after sitting on his hands while Jimmy Butler and Paul George changed teams for a much smaller bounty than Kyrie commanded.

The good news for Wizards fans is that Boston lost one of its prized future picks without necessarily improving its team in the short run. Irving is arguably a better player than Isaiah Thomas, but Jae Crowder was a big part of the Celtics defense. Without Crowder and Avery Bradley on the floor in late game situations, the Celtics will have to rely on Gordon Hayward and internal improvement from Jaylen Brown to duplicate their defensive success from years past.

All things equal, I’d much rather have Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick in the hands of a rebuilding Cavs team (assuming LeBron leaves) than staying with Ainge in Boston.

What Exactly is Going on With Isaiah Thomas’s Hip?

Isaiah was injured in last season’s playoffs and missed the final three games of Boston’s Eastern conference finals loss to the Cavs. He opted not to have surgery and initial expectations were that he would be ready for the next season.

But his recovery progressed much more slowly than expected, and Danny Ainge admitted after the trade that Thomas might not be ready to start the season.

This is a big deal. Isaiah’s slow recovery is disconcerting and, because this is a contract year, Thomas has every right to make sure he is fully healthy before returning to the court.

LeBron James is coming off a year where he was 10th in the league in minutes played and his team only won 51 games. The Cavs already struggle when LeBron sits—even with Kyrie Irving on the floor—and those struggles will be even worse if Thomas is not at full speed to start the season.

Will the Cavs be Better Next Year Because of This Trade?

No. But that was not necessarily their plan. Irving’s trade demand put Cleveland in a tough spot. As Adrian Wojnarowski reported a week ago, the Cavs needed a veteran star to make a title run alongside LeBron, but also needed a future asset to expedite a rebuild if/when LeBron leaves. Cleveland got both from Boston.

As strange as it sounds, the Cavs will feel Kyrie’s departure most at the defensive end. There are very few guards who are worse defenders than Irving. Isaiah Thomas is one of them. The Celtics were able to hide Isaiah defensively alongside Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart, but the Cavs roster does not complement Isaiah as well. Cleveland acquired Derrick Rose in the off-season but he is a ball dominant point guard who is not a great spot up shooter. It’s unclear how he, LeBron and Isaiah will share the ball, if at all, in a half-court offense.

There are whispers Dwyane Wade might join his old teammate in Cleveland later this summer if he is bought out by the Chicago Bulls. While Wade provided some flashback moments in the playoffs against the Celtics last season, it’s fair to wonder how much he will have in the tank for a deep playoff run, especially if he is asked to carry a large defensive burden.

Will the Cavs be Better in the Long-Term Because of This Trade?

Yes. Assuming LeBron leaves Cleveland after this season, the Nets 2018 first-round pick will be the Cavs biggest rebuilding asset as they rid themselves of the bloated salaries LeBron commanded for his teammates/clients. The good news for Wizards fans is that—assuming LeBron leaves—it does not matter if the Cavs long-term outlook has improved. Washington should be far ahead of a rebuilding Cavs team for several years. As noted earlier, Brooklyn’s first-round pick would be a lot scarier if it remained in Boston. As long as we are assuming LeBron is going west next year, let’s just move on to the question everyone is asking…

How Does the Trade Affect the Wizards-Celtics Matchup?

This is the big question for Washington fans. With LeBron’s potential departure, Boston is the presumptive heir to the Eastern conference throne. Now that Ainge has thrown at least one first round chip into the pot, the Celtics’ future comes into a little more focus.

Boston has the versatility to roll out a few different starting lineups, but their top-9 rotation is relatively set: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and Aron Baynes.

While the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade will garner the headlines, there was another move this summer that could have an even bigger impact on the Wizards-Celtics matchup: the Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris trade.

Bradley was the cornerstone of Boston’s perimeter defense and was a particular thorn in John Wall and Bradley Beal’s side. Wall recently called Bradley the best perimeter defender in the league.

However, Avery’s impact was not solely on the defensive end. Bradley is an underrated scorer. To wit, he was unconscious in the Celtics pivotal Game 5 victory, scoring 29 points on 12-for-19 shooting, and he almost won Game 6 all by himself with several clutch shots before John Wall’s memorable game winner.

Gordon Hayward is a pretty good defender, but the drop off from Hayward to Bradley is significant. Wall and Beal are the lifeblood of this Wizards team and any move that gives them more breathing room against the Celtics is significant.

[AP Photo Nick Wass]

The most intriguing match-up on both sides is at small forward. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are Boston’s X-factors. Both played well in this year’s summer league and there is reason to believe both can handle heavy minutes in the rotation. Ainge’s confidence in the two young small forwards may be one reason why he was willing to let Crowder go.

But Washington has its own pair of small forward youngsters: Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre, Jr. While, theoretically, Otto should not be an X-factor after signing a four-year $106 million max contract, the truth is we cannot be sure which Otto will show up next year—the NBA-leading 3-point shooter who set the league ablaze during the first 50 games of the season or the more pedestrian post-All-Star break role player.

If Washington is outplayed at that position, like they were against Taurean Prince in Games 3 and 4 of the Atlanta Hawks series, the Wizards are at a distinct disadvantage.

With the departure of Kelly Olynyk and arrival of Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, Washington’s frontcourt ideally should match up better with Boston than they did last year. Markieff seems to play well against his brother and Baynes could actually solve a pretty big matchup problem that hurt the Wizards last year; namely, Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi cannot cover mobile big men.

In that ill-fated playoff series, Al Horford drained an ungodly amount of 3-pointers while Kelly Olynyk channeled the ghost of Larry Bird, which rendered Gortat and Mahinmi useless. If Brad Stevens gives Baynes significant minutes, Washington’s high-priced centers suddenly have a meaningful role versus the Celtics.

Finally, there is the question of intangibles. Brad Stevens makes his living creating a sum that is greater than its parts. But to do so, he needs complete buy-in from all of his players and, most especially, his best player. He had that last year in Isaiah Thomas. The whole team—really the whole city—rallied around him.

This brings us back to the centerpiece of the blockbuster deal and the biggest X-factor of them all: Kyrie Irving. Kyrie finally got his wish, and now it is on him to produce. In his first six seasons in the league he has not shown a willingness or ability to be a true leader and make his teammates better—although before last year’s playoffs, LeBron James hinted that Kyrie was starting to grasp that aspect of his game. In Boston, he will be asked to do just that. How he responds may determine whether Washington or Boston is the true heir to LeBron’s throne.

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Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.