I can no longer sit idly by while I see mock trades suggesting that the Celtics offer Isaiah Thomas and more pieces for Kyrie Irving. The Celtics should not make a substantial offer for Kyrie Irving, no matter your opinion on how he compares to Thomas. The argument in favor of such a trade is convincing, but missing a lot of details. It’s been suggested that Boston should offer a package of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and the Lakers/Kings pick for Irving, given Cleveland’s rightfully steep asking price and the fact that Irving is signed through the summer of 2020. Irving will make about $21 million that year, while Stephen Curry earns $40 million on a contract that pays him $45 million in 2022. In perspective, the Irving contract is pretty good.
Aside from the contract, this type of trade makes no sense. Screw it, it doesn’t make sense with the contract, either. The Celtics as they are now are favorites to participate in the Eastern Conference Finals and are the East’s dark horse Finals team. Trading Thomas, Crowder, and a pick for Irving wouldn’t change that much. If anything, it increases Boston’s chances of beating Cleveland by some amount. Great, but at what cost?
This season, Crowder and Thomas will make about $13 million combined to Kyrie’s $18 million. Whether or not Boston offers Thomas a max contract, they’ll still have Crowder under contract for two more seasons, paying him just $7.8 million in the 2019-20 season. If Boston moves on from Isaiah, they can continue to build for the future with their last Brooklyn pick and the Lakers/Kings pick. If they keep Isaiah, they can build around him, whether it’s by using those picks or trading them, it doesn’t matter. The point is the Celtics have all of those options available to them. Packaging those pieces for one player throws every one of those options out the window.
Here’s my not-so-hot take: I wouldn’t even trade Thomas for Irving straight up. I prefer to judge players by the eye test, but Thomas and Irving are considerably similar as far as point guards go. So, I begrudgingly turn to advanced stats, where Thomas is noticeably better. First, the elephant in the room: defense. Think of every criticism Thomas has received for his defense, and now consider the fact that Irving has the same defensive rating. Still worried about height? In most other significant stats, Thomas has Irving beat. Value over replacement player, box plus-minus, win shares, player efficiency rating, and true scoring, to just name a few, all favor Thomas. Given the context that Thomas is the focal point of Boston’s current roster, I would look at him as an absolute lock to be their ideal starting point guard for at least one more year
There’s one more not-so-advanced stat worth looking at - age. Thomas and Irving and 28 and 25 respectively. You have to admire that Irving can go punch-for-punch with the great players of the league at such a young age and that only further reiterates how great his contract really is. According to the arbitrary age restriction of a player’s career that we call their “prime”, Kyrie has room to get even better. It’s honestly remarkable. So if Irving, in theory, is on track to put up Thomas-like numbers on offense in two or three years, what’s not to love? Well, there’s that little detail where Irving has specified teams he’d like to be traded to, and Boston isn’t one of them. Boston, where he would theoretically fill the starting point guard role seamlessly and contend for one of the best-managed franchises in sports, I repeat, is NOT on Kyrie Irving’s list. And that’s totally fine, but if Boston is going to continue on the path of contending in the short and long term, then Irving’s doesn’t fit any ideal timeline. He’d be the perfect target for a win-now move, but be honest with yourself, do you see Danny Ainge making a win-now trade? I know we like to imagine living in Kevin Garnett fantasy land again, but KG isn’t walking through that door.