Anderson: The Irving-to-Boston rumors make absolutely zero sense

Ty Anderson
July 25, 2017 - 9:11 pm

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

The Celtics have reportedly made a call on disgruntled Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving.

That’s great. Maybe C’s president Danny Ainge will now call the Warriors about Steph Curry and see if they’re willing to throw in Klay Thompson, too, because that’s probably as likely as Irving landing with the Celtics in any way, shape, or form this summer.

Look, I get it. We’re in the middle of summer, and we’re in the true dead zone of sports coverage. There’s not much to talk about, especially in Boston with the Red Sox suddenly forgetting how to hit a baseball, and when a player or Irving’s caliber becomes available, it’s worth talking about. It just doesn’t hurt that it’s either trying to summon up enough fake outrage about David Price doing his best United Airlines employee impression on Dennis Eckersley or coming up with some Irving-to-Boston fantasy trades.

But those trades are also fundamentally flawed.

For one, the Cavs are not going to trade with the Celtics. Not as long as LeBron James is there. Given where these teams are right now, with the Cavs standing as the East’s top squad for three straight seasons and still looking for a fourth straight trip to the Finals -- especially if this is indeed LeBron’s last run in town before he officially departs for The Decision: L.A. Edition next summer -- there’s absolutely zero chance that the Cavaliers would weaken themselves to strengthen Boston. Especially long term.

That LeBron point is the main point to consider here, too.

Keep in mind that James, who apparently has issues of his own with the 25-year-old Irving, has not definitively said that he is or not going to leave Cleveland at the end of next season. And if he actually opts to stay, which is probably considered just as important if not more important than winning an NBA title next summer and the mindset you simply have to operate with if you’re the Cavs, it’s clear that the Cavs would need to get him some more help in order to compete with the West’s best. James has been absolutely upfront about that, too. Trading Irving to the Celtics would make LeBron’s road to the Finals harder before even getting to go against those in the West.

In essence, it wouldn’t happen.

But forget the teams for a second -- forget that this would be the East’s best trading their second-best player to the team that’s been consistently improving their roster in an effort to dethrone them -- and think about Irving’s desires and fit within the Celtics.

One of the biggest reasons why Irving allegedly wants out of Cleveland is his desire to be the focal point of an offense. He wants the ball in his hands more, and he wants to be the guy. That’s not going to happen when he’s playing next to the best player in the world, of course. But it may not happen with a hypothetical move to the Celtics either.

The Celtics just invested $128 million in Gordon Hayward. The 27-year-old Hayward was sold on Boston because of the fit that C’s coach Brad Stevens sold him on and how he can truly maximize his talents with the Celtics, even after a year in which Hayward averaged a career-best 21.9 points and 15.8 attempted field goals per night. That was an undeniable factor and has set some ballhandling expectations for Hayward, too, as offers from both the Jazz and Heat made it be known that Hayward would be the centerpiece of their offense. And when broken down in a per 36 minutes format, Hayward averaged 16.5 attempted field goals per night a year ago, while James averaged 17.3. If Stevens is right about Hayward’s usage within the C’s system, the 6-foot-8 Hayward will likely erase that 0.8 differential this upcoming season.

Hayward’s optimal fit doesn’t happen in Boston if Irving is the ball-dominant player that he wants to be, and that may already be the case with Hayward riding as the shotgun option next to Isaiah Thomas for at least one season in town. Complicating Ainge’s title picture with two relatively unknowns in Irving and Hayward -- and at the expense of the known Stevens-fitted Thomas -- would make little sense for anybody.

Still, the proposals have come in.

And they’re centered around Ainge sending Thomas, Jae Crowder, and at least one of the club’s prized draft picks -- be it the Brooklyn pick in 2018 or the Lakers or Kings pick acquired from the Sixers in the Markelle Fultz trade -- to the Cavs to acquire Irving. So, you’re trading a player that finished fifth in 2017 NBA MVP voting, a player that was your top three-point shooter a year ago, and a potential No. 1 overall pick for Irving?

What? Oh, we’re serious?

This is the package you’d be forced to legitimately entertain for Anthony Davis. Not Irving, or any player that 'demands' their way out of town.

Sure, on the surface, Irving is the better player when compared to Thomas. He’s three years younger, and his height over Thomas at the point guard position is certainly noteworthy, with Irving standing among the taller 1’s throughout the league at 6-foot-3 versus the 5-foot-9 Thomas. (That advantage was certainly on display at different points in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals series between the Cavs and Celtics, too.) Irving is also locked up at least $18 million through 2019, whereas Thomas is a free agent this time next season and has made it known that he wants max money from the Celtics.

But Irving has the same on-court warts as Thomas. He’s a defensive nightmare. He’s a shoot-first talent in a position historically known for its playmaking importance, and is thus sometimes considered selfish when it comes to playing within the team concept. And while people question Thomas’ future because of his current hip injury, it’s certainly worth noting that Irving has been out with 13 different injuries since the start of the 2014 calendar year. He’s missed a total of 48 regular-season games and seven postseason games because of those various injuries, too, which should be an obvious concern.

The only clear edge that Irving has established over Thomas, who would only be one of several pieces that the Celtics would have to trade to make an Irving-in-Boston dream anything close to a reality (and even then, who knows), is that he’s been a strong matchup against Curry in the last three NBA Finals meetings.

But that’s not something that you can realistically hold against Thomas, as he’s never had the chance to go against the Warriors in the NBA’s fourth round. That could change this year, though, with the addition of Hayward to the C’s versatile lineup, and Thomas’ resume as one of the game’s top fourth-quarter performers is worth an extended look.

In a year of relatively unknowns, from Hayward to Zizic and almost the entire Celtic bench for that matter, it would behoove the Celtics to stick with the progress of Thomas under Stevens over the boom-or-bust (in more ways than one) of Irving.

Even if Irving talk entertains us -- or at the very least spares us from further analysis of Price’s charter plane etiquette -- throughout the dog days of summer.

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