And you thought Danny Ainge had lost his gambling touch.
After countless near-trades and moments of asset hoarding, the Boston Celtics general manager reminded everyone he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger at any time and on anyone.
The move to trade face-of-the-franchise Isaiah Thomas, along with valuable wing Jae Crowder and, of course, the crown jewel Brooklyn Nets 2018 draft pick, for Kyrie Irving is Ainge’s biggest swing for the fences yet in the Celtics’ current rebuild.
It’s aggressive. It may even be unnecessary. But there’s no doubting it’s a bold, high-variance play that Ainge hopes will result in raising Boston’s ceiling even further.
Because as it stood before the trade, things were going just swimmingly for last season’s Eastern Conference top seed. It truly seemed like Ainge finally had what he wanted – two timelines, one for the present and one for the future, to build on simultaneously.
The only problem, however, was a decision on Thomas loomed next offseason that may have locked the Celtics into a third, alternate timeline where the present and future don’t fully overlap.
It may seem overly cautious to not want to pay top dollar for a player coming off one of the most efficient scoring seasons in history, resulting in a top-five finish in MVP voting and an All-NBA Second Team selection – let alone having helped rebuild the franchise and capturing the city’s heart – but Thomas, a 5’9″ guard who will be 29 next summer and is currently recovering from a bad hip, comes with undeniable risk.
Yet, the biggest gamble Ainge is taking and what is likely his number one reason for making the move, is Irving not having reached his full potential.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 23, 2017
At 25, arguably the league’s best one-on-one player is just entering his prime with a history of being a clutch-time performer capable of coming through in the biggest moments on the biggest stage.
Put him in Brad Stevens’ motion-based offence and watch him reach another level, as so many players under the Celtics coach have done.
This is also a bet on Irving as a person. You wanted to get out of LeBron James’ shadow and be a leader? Here you go.
For the Cavaliers, the trade is a home run. Newly-appointed general manager Koby Altman has managed to keep the team strong right now as they vie for another title with James, while also restocking the cupboard should LeBron bolt.
With as little leverage as Cleveland had, Ainge certainly overpaid, but in the larger context the Celtics had the margin to do just that for the chance to solidify their future.