After meeting in last season's Eastern Conference finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics reportedly agreed to swap their starting point guards, Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. As part of the deal, the Cavaliers receive Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets' first-round pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
The core of the trade is the swap of Thomas and Irving, both members of last season's Eastern Conference All-Star team. Both players averaged at least 25 points per game last season, with Thomas (28.9 PPG) finishing third in the league in scoring and Irving (25.2) finishing 11th. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that this is the first time in NBA history a pair of 25 point per game scorers were traded for each other the following season.
Thomas and Irving were the two highest-scoring point guards in the Eastern Conference last season. Thomas has been on the upswing, increasing his scoring in each of his two full seasons with the Celtics, scoring 22.2 PPG in 2015-16 and then 28.9 PPG in 2016-17.
While both excel at scoring, neither is good at defending. Thomas ranked dead last out of 80 point guards in ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus and 467th out of 468 players overall last season, ahead of only Doug McDermott. Irving wasn't much better at 69th among the 80 PGs.
What it means for Irving and the Celtics
The deal ultimately allows Irving to be the centerpiece of an offense for the first time since LeBron James returned to Cleveland prior to the 2014-15 season. Elias notes that last season, Irving was the first player in NBA history to average 25.0 PPG and 5.0 APG and not lead his team in either category. James led the Cavs in both.
Irving is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 25.2 PPG and also posted a career-high 47.3 FG pct.
Irving also gives the Celtics a bona fide superstar. In fact, Irving is the fourth player since the merger to be taken first overall and average 20.0 PPG and 5.0 APG through his first six seasons, joining Derrick Rose, LeBron and Allen Iverson.
Irving will now combine with new teammate Gordon Hayward in Boston. Like Irving, Hayward was also a 20-point per game scorer last season, averaging 21.9 PPG with the Jazz. If the duo can both reach 20.0 PPG, it will be the first time the Celtics have a pair of 20 PPG scorers since Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker in the 2002-03 season.
What it means for Thomas and the Cavs
First and foremost, the deal means the end of the Irving-James pairing in Cleveland. Over the past three seasons, the two each scored at least 30 points in a game 18 times, nearly twice as often as any other duo in the NBA in that span.
Last season, Irving and Thomas were similar players, as noted in the graphic above.
The closeness of the two in performance could play out well for the Cavs. For the upcoming season, Irving is slated to make $18.9 million. The duo of Thomas ($6.3 million) and Crowder ($6.8 million) will make just $13.1 million this season.
The deal could put the Cavs in a better spot to keep LeBron in Cleveland long-term by getting Brooklyn's 2018 first-rounder and Ante Zizic in the deal. With Marvin Bagley III's reclassification to the 2017 recruiting class, he and Michael Porter Jr. could be the top-two players in the 2018 draft. If the Cavaliers do get the No. 1 pick, it would be the fourth time in eight years Cleveland held the top pick in the draft.
It won't take long for Irving and Thomas to face each other with their new teams. The first game of the NBA season is Celtics at Cavaliers, October 17 at 8 p.m. ET on TNT. The teams will play three times this season -- and that is the only time that the Celtics visit Cleveland in the regular season.