NBA trades aren’t won in the first 24 hours and they are not lost until more than a year passes. Three things happen in the life of a trade. Either a trade serves both organizations, or it destroys both organizations. Or a third option. The trade has a little bit of something something for everyone involved.
When Dwight Howard was traded to the Lakers, four players were moved. Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Andre Bynum and Nicola Vucevic. The trade worked out for Vucevic, and for Igoudala. It was an utter disaster for Howard and Bynum and their respective team’s the Lakers and Sixers. The trade’s failure jump started The Process.
Vucevic was the trade’s bright spot. He became an All-Star for the team he was traded to. Igoudala also benefited. He had such a great year playing for the Nuggets he parlayed that into a free agent deal with the Warriors and a NBA Finals MVP.
When the Memphis Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers for a package that included his brother Marc who had been stashed in Spain, everyone thought the Lakers got over. But Marc Gasol came into his own with the Grizzlies and he is jamming up Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons right now. Embiid can’t shoot over him and has to contend with Gasol’s veteran tricks. And Simmons is kept out the lane. The younger brother benefited from the trade and so did older brother who got two rings.
But the Celtics-Cavs trade which isn’t even two years old will be remembered as Danny Ainge swinging for the fences and then falling on his sword. The first thing that Ainge didn’t consider- and I’m sure he will use this same logic when trading for Anthony Davis- was the temperament of the player he was trading for. It said something about Kyrie’s mental game that he was eager to leave a championship team with LeBron James, that he would rather go it alone and start over. It was indicative of what Kyrie cherished. But Ainge didn’t consider that. He believed Brad Stevens, a talented and gritty young core, plus Gordon Hayward and Al Horford would round out a dominant team. Okay. Yes. On paper.
But Kyrie is emotional and unpredictable, in the best of times. In the worst of times, he kills the locker room chemistry and in the NBA that can mean a 6 or 7 game playoff series is reduced to a 5 game series.
Cleveland didn’t have to honor the Kyrie trade demand. It was a mystery as to why they gave it legitimacy, particularly after the NBA had already witnessed a superstar in Kobe Bryant demand a trade and the Lakers saying to their Hall of Famer, nah we good. Do your job.
The Cavs panicked. We all do when stressed but so much was hanging in the balance without the ability to look around the corner.
Just as the Celtics didn’t give much thought to the personality of the person they were acquiring, the Cavs didn’t wonder why Boston was so eager to give away a player who led the NBA in 4th quarter scoring and who was the reason the Celtics were in the playoffs in the first place. They didn’t do their homework.
Isaiah was damaged goods. His hip was in shreds and what could be salvaged through medical intervention will allow Isaiah to walk without a permanent limp. But he will never reclaim his NBA touch. Kyrie was also damaged goods. His injury history isn’t the worst of it. It’s his erratic and moody behavior and his desire to iso the Celtics like Harden iso’s the Rockets. But that’s not the Celtic system. Kyrie can sour a NBA locker room.
The trade couldn’t even make it to two years. Kyrie is out of the playoffs and a free agent in a month. Isaiah is in the playoffs, probably the Western Conference Finals, but can only watch from the bench and act like a cheerleader.
Cleveland lost LeBron because of Kyrie wanting to be the star of the show. They are in the lottery for the next few years. Boston is back to square one. They will scheme for Anthony Davis but they have a Gordon Hayward problem. He will be a better locker room star than Irving, but he doesn’t look like he can play that leading role anymore. Hayward is taking up too much of the cap and right now he isn’t tradeable.
In a perfect world, the Isaiah-Kyrie trade would have been settled on the court with a matchup of the Celtics and Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. But Isaiah couldn’t make it through the season before he was traded for a bunch of kids who names few will remember but just for the record, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. The air was let out the balloon as soon it was apparent Isaiah couldn’t play. Then Kyrie got hurt and missed the playoffs. And then LeBron left. And then the Celtics were dysfunctional. And then Kyrie bragged about taking 30 shots. And then this. Elimination. And perhaps the Knicks for Irving.
It would have been a story to tell, if the teams had prospered. But, they didn’t. It was a catastrophe. That they both failed is a fitting tribute to how difficult trades are to live up to the hype. When all was said and done, Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas was a flat out, no-brainer dud.