The Best and Worst Case Scenario for Each Team in the Kyrie Isaiah Deal

By Connor Pignatello

The Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the NBA world on August 22nd when Cleveland sent wantaway All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to their biggest competition, the Boston Celtics. In return, the Cavaliers received All-Star Isaiah Thomas, defensive-minded wing Jae Crowder, European import Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s unprotected pick in next year’s draft.

At the surface, this trade looks like a fair swap, with both teams receiving upgrades to their respective squads. But both teams mortgaged their present and future in this trade, creating an enormous range of outcomes. This article will explore each team’s best and worst case scenarios after the blockbuster deal.

What if Jae Crowder is the final piece of the defensive puzzle that Cleveland desperately needs to defeat Golden State?

What if Kyrie, now the best player on his team, transforms into a different beast, and leads the Celtics to the Finals?

These are just some of the questions that will be answered before the NBA season concludes next June.

Cavaliers best-case scenario

Isaiah Thomas accepts a secondary role to Lebron James in Cleveland’s system. He becomes more efficient, and his percentages rise across the board, thanks to Lebron’s pinpoint passes. While James is resting, Isaiah transforms back into his Boston ways, dominating the ball and drilling shots from all over the court. Thomas turns 29 in February, and as his body starts to break down, a secondary role on the Cavs will help him play for many more years.

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Jae Crowder returns to the team that drafted him in 2012 after multiple trades and demotions to the D-League. With the help of Lebron’s excellent passing, Crowder improves his three-point percentage, transforming himself into a sniper on the wing. Crowder’s defensive versatility enables the Cavaliers to defend the wing-heavy lineups that are now prevalent in today’s NBA.

Ante Zizic takes a reserve role on the Cavs, but is a much-needed source of bench rebounding.

Brooklyn’s draft pick lands at number one for the second year in a row. The Cavaliers draft a young star like forward Michael Porter Jr. or guard Luka Doncic. The promise of a great young player compels Thomas and James to resign, continuing Cleveland’s dominance in the East.

Cavaliers worst-case scenario

Thomas’s hip, which he injured in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, never heals correctly and he is unable to return to his 2016 self. He can’t mesh with Lebron James, as he needs to be the primary ball handler to be effective. Unsatisfied with his secondary role on the Cavs, Thomas leaves the team in free agency after just one year in Cleveland.

Jae Crowder can’t rectify Cleveland’s mediocre defense all by himself. He is also unable to produce off the bench, a place he hasn’t played from since 2014. He sees the Cavaliers as an offense-only team, and notices that they don’t play with the kind of defensive grit that his Celtic teammates played with.
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Ante Zizic’s zero career three-point makes hinder him in today’s pace-and-space game. Zizic is labeled as a bust.

Brooklyn, with the additions of D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, and DeMarre Carroll, becomes semi-competitive. They almost reach the Playoffs in an extremely weak Eastern Conference and their pick falls out of the top ten.

Lebron James realizes that Thomas is no better than his old teammate Irving, and after losing to the Warriors in the Finals for the third time in four years, he decides to call it quits in Cleveland and head for the golden hills of Hollywood.

As you can see, there is an enormous range of outcomes that could occur. If the Cavs mesh well together, they will have a great chance of dethroning the Warriors. They will be able to persuade Lebron James and Isaiah Thomas to resign, as well as having a top draft pick.

However, if the Cavs don’t develop good chemistry, they stand no chance of beating the Celtics, let alone the Warriors. Cleveland faces the distinct possibility that both James and Thomas leave in free agency next summer.

Celtics best-case scenario

Kyrie blossoms in Boston and shows his ability to lead a team where he is the primary star. Now in the spotlight, he transforms into a different beast, and leads the Celtics to the Finals. His passing improves as he leaves the confines of Cleveland’s Lebron-dominated offense. He finds Gordon Hayward on the wing for three point bombs, Al Horford in the post for layups, and Jaylen Brown streaking down the court for fastbreak dunks.

Irving flourishes in Boston, leading the Celtics to a win in the Eastern Conference Finals over his former team, the Cavaliers. He shows that, yes, he can be the best player on a contending team.

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With Irving, the Celtics now have the star they’ve been searching for for years. Boston also has great talent surrounding Irving. They have veteran talent like All-Stars Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. And they have young, athletic wings like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

The Cavaliers are a much older team than the Celtics. Their two best players, Thomas and James, are free agents next summer. The Celtics are better equipped than the Cavs to contend with the Warriors in the years to come. They have lots of young talent, in addition to one of the top selections in next year’s draft, courtesy of the Lakers.

Celtics worst-case scenario

Kyrie struggles without Lebron, and the Celtics realize that, although Irving is a great sidekick, he’s not good enough to be the best player on a championship team. Kyrie finds it’s extremely difficult to be a team’s primary star. The fulltime ball handling duties, the sensational Boston media, the new leadership expectations, and all of the pressure of being the Celtics best player get to him.
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Now out of Lebron’s shadow, people realize Kyrie’s weaknesses. His passing, defense, and leadership abilities are scrutinized, and he’s unable to get past Lebron James in the Eastern Conference Finals.

After trading away their best scorer in Thomas and their best defender in Crowder, the Celtics aren’t able to pass the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. Even after adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics still don’t have enough firepower to beat the immovable force in the East: Lebron James.

After completely remodeling their team this offseason, the Celtics could either fly to the top of the Eastern Conference, or flop and flame out in the second round of the playoffs.

The combination of young players, veteran players, superstars, and role players that the Celtics have make them a great pick to emerge out of the Eastern Conference.

But the Celtics have lost a great deal of their identity this offseason, bidding farewell to 4/5ths of their starting lineup. If the Celtics can’t come together and form chemistry, they’ll be just another team with loads of potential but no results.

The Cavaliers will host the Celtics on the opening night of the NBA season, October 17th. The teams also figure to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the winner of this blockbuster trade will be decided. Because of this trade and many others, the NBA will be a very interesting place next year.

Special thanks to Basketball Reference for these helpful stats.

Kyrie Irving picture credit: By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA – Kyrie Irving, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36918818

Rafael Devers: Boston’s Rising Star

By Connor Pignatello

The Red Sox third base problem was not solved by a veteran rental. No, it was solved by a sweet-hitting 20-year-old Dominican named Rafael Devers.

But before I explain Devers’ spectacular rise, I must set the stage for his entrance.

~~July 24th~~

It’s July 24th and the Red Sox have ground to a halt. Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline is just eight days away and nearly the entire baseball community expects the Sox to trade for Todd Frazier.

Frazier, the third baseman for the White Sox, is in the midst of the worst season of his career. He’s hitting just .210 and his contract expires at the end of the year.

The Red Sox haven’t been able to gain traction since the All-star break, going just 5-6. The Yankees, their ever-present rivals, are creeping up on them in the standings and have swooped in on a trade for Todd Frazier, even though many executives and analysts were sure the slugger would join the Red Sox.

Third base has been a huge issue for Boston, who has used eight (!) different players there. Collectively, Red Sox third basemen are slashing .227/.280/.320, marks that rank 27th, 29th, and 30th in the league, respectively. They have not only been terrible hitters, but they also lead the league in errors.

Dave Dombrowski decides to rectify the Red Sox’ third base issue by promoting top prospect Rafael Devers to the big leagues.

~~A Rafael Devers Profile~~

Rafael Devers was born on October 24th, 1996 in Sanchez, an aging port city in the Dominican Republic. He first started playing baseball at the age of five, inspired by his father, who played amateur ball. Devers grew up with baseball all around him and quickly showed immense talent.

In 2013, Devers signed with the Red Sox at just 17 years old. He was ranked as the number three international prospect in his class, and he signed with the Red Sox, his childhood favorite team, for $1.5 million. Devers entered the Red Sox organization as their 20th ranked prospect in a deep farm system.
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Upon joining the Red Sox, Devers was placed in the Dominican Summer League (DSL), a place where new international signings go to work on their skills. Devers took the DSL by storm, batting .337/.445/.538 with three home runs in 28 games. He impressed everyone, by his ability to hit for both average and power, and also by his great batting eye — Devers walked more times than he struck out.

After tearing up the Dominican League, Devers was sent to the States, where he played in the Gulf Coast League. The Gulf Coast League, or GCL, is where first-year minor league players are sent after being drafted or signed by their teams. Most of the players in the GCL have been drafted out of college or have just finished high school, meaning that at age 17, Devers was one of the youngest players in the league. Devers carved up the GCL, batting .312 with eleven doubles and four homers in 42 games.

After Devers’ wildy successful first year, he was rated as the Red Sox’ sixth best prospect, and baseball’s 99th best, all at just 18 years old. This was an incredible accomplishment, as Devers was the youngest player on Baseball America’s top 100 list that year.
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In 2015, Devers was promoted to the Red Sox’ Low-A affiliate, the Greenville Drive, where he experienced full-season ball for the first time. There, he was matched up against much older opponents, being one of just seven position players under the age of 19 in the South Atlantic League. Devers played well in Greenville too, batting .288 with 38 doubles and 11 home runs in 115 games. During the 2015 season, Devers was selected to the Futures Game, an event during All-Star weekend that showcases basbeball’s best young talent.After a season in Low-A, Devers was ranked as Boston’s second best prospect, and baseball’s 18th best. Devers jumped 81 spots on Baseball America’s top 100 in just one year, a remarkable achievement.

In 2016 Devers was promoted to the Red Sox’ High-A affiliate, the Salem Red Sox, at the age of 19. However, Devers hit a bump in the road in Salem. Amongst players much older than him, it appeared that Devers had finally met his match. In the first half of the season, he scuffled to a .233/.300/.305 line with just four home runs in 63 games.

However, Devers bounced back brilliantly after the All-Star break. He slashed an incredible .326/.367/.539, with seven home runs and eleven steals in 64 games. After this second-half breakout, Devers has not looked back in his meteoric rise to the majors.
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In 2016, Devers’ defense finally started to catch up with his offense. Early on in his career, scouts considered moving him to first base, because of his heavy build. But Devers has worked hard on his defense, and has stayed at the hot corner. In High-A, Devers led all Carolina league third basemen in fielding percentage (.960), putouts (104), and assists (258).

After his outstanding second half in High-A, Devers earned a non-roster invitation to 2017 Spring Training with the Red Sox. This was a big step up for the 20-year-old Devers, but he wasn’t ready for it, batting 3 for 22 against big league competition. Nevertheless, he earned a promotion to Double-A Portland, where he played for most of this year.

Devers was the Portland Red Sox’ standout player this year, socking 18 homers in addition to achieving an excellent .296/.366/.571 slash line. In 77 games, Devers jumped to number six in Baseball America’s most recent prospect rankings. He was also selected to participate in the MLB Futures Game for the second time.
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Devers was promoted to Triple-A on July 14th, and continued to hit for both average and power while in Pawtucket. Devers became the third youngest player ever to be promoted by the Red Sox to Triple-A, yet another reminder that he was playing extremely well for his age. The Dominican lefty hit an astounding .400 for the Pawtucket Red Sox, and he earned a promotion to the big leagues after just nine games in Triple-A.

When Devers debuted on July 25th, he was the youngest player in the major leagues, but you’d never know it. His first major league hit was a home run (!), and during his sixteen career major league games Devers has surprised everyone.

Scouting report

Devers has a very promising future, thanks to his ability to hit for both average and power. He has incredible raw power, and can spray the ball to all fields. His opposite field power is unsurpassed among players his age. For example, when Devers hit two homers against the Indians on August 14th, one was a laser into the Green Monster seats in left field, and the other was a high drive into the Red Sox bullpen in right field.

Devers also has great bat speed, and he is able to hit pitches very far, and to any part of the field. On August 13th, Devers hit a 102.8 mph pitch into the Yankees bullpen, the fastest pitch ever hit for a home run in the Statcast era.

Devers is not as polished as other recent Red Sox prospects like Andrew Benintendi, but he has a higher ceiling. I project that in his prime years he will hit around .285 with 30 home runs, 40 doubles, and five to ten stolen bases.
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He has improved his defensive skills, but don’t expect him to be a Gold-Glove winning third baseman. I believe he will stay at the hot corner, as he is becoming more reliable and is improving his range. Overall, Devers projects to be an All-Star with a dependable glove and a reliable, middle-of-the-order bat.

Conclusion

As of August 15th, Devers is hitting .339 with six home runs, incredible statistics that show his ability is way beyond his years. I don’t mean to read too closely into Devers’ 62 career at-bats, but he has a very promising future.

Pairing Devers with other young Red Sox stars like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley jr. and Xander Bogaerts should help Boston stay at the top of the AL East for years. Devers gives Boston an entirely homegrown lineup, the dream of every major league team.

Special thanks to Baseball Reference, Baseball America, and milb.com for the statistics I used in this post.

I would also like to thank NESN.com, the New Haven Register, and SB Nation’s Minor League Ball blog.

Prospect rankings are from Baseball America

Fenway Park Photo Credit: User: (WT-shared) Jtesla16 at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons