Want a shot at beating the Golden State Warriors? Then go get Kyrie Irving. I know, Celtics fans love Isaiah Thomas, and he’s coming off an MVP-level campaign, but in the long run, Irving is the better player. And it’s not particularly close.
Thomas is 28 and at just 5’9″ there’s a serious risk that he’ll break down rapidly. He may never reach the heights he did during the 2016-17 season again, and he’s due for a huge raise as he hits free agency next year.
The Cavs would want Thomas in return, but given that he’s an impending free agent (and is three years older than Irving) it will take far more than that to get a deal done. Cleveland would ask for either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, plus Ante Zizic and the Los Angeles Lakers first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft (which Boston acquired from Philadelphia before this year’s draft).
That sound like a lot? Well, remember, the Celtics might lose Thomas next season anyway. With Gordon Hayward and Al Horford’s contracts, plus the team’s role players, it’s going to be tough to fit IT4’s new deal under the cap. Irving has a far more palatable deal. Brown and Tatum will struggle to find minutes on the wing, so unloading one of those guys makes sense. The Cavs will demand one of the Celtics’ top picks, and Boston isn’t going to surrender the Nets’ pick in 2018. Zizic could be a solid player, but he’s a wild card and the Cavs want some more height in the post.
In the end, Boston would wind up with a rotation that would include Irving, Hayward, Horford, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes and Brown or Tatum. That squad would absolutely be the favorite to win the East.
Meanwhile, the Cavs would get Thomas, and a ton of young, controllable assets to build with. Thomas could also help convince LeBron to stay in Cleveland, but if they both wound up bolting in 2018, the franchise would have pieces to build with.