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

The Incredible Transformation of the Greek Freak

By Connor Pignatello

When Giannis Antetokounmpo was drafted fifteenth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2013 NBA Draft, he had never been to America and barely spoke a word of English. He was a lanky 18-year-old kid who measured at 6’9” and 196 pounds. Now, just four years later, Antetokounmpo is a 6’11”, 222 pound beast who can pass like a guard, score like a forward, and defend like a center. This past season, the Greek Freak started the All-Star game, was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, and became the embodiment of the NBA’s future.

However, Giannis didn’t get to this point without hard work. After Bucks losses or bad games, Antetokounmpo drives to a gym in full uniform and works on his game until the wee hours of the night, sometimes until 3 AM. He is one of the hardest-working players in the league, a trait he learned as a kid in Greece with undocumented parents, tight money, and a yearning to play basketball, the game he loved.

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To truly understand how Giannis broke out and wreaked havoc in the NBA last year, we must go back to the year 1991.

That year, Antetokounmpo’s parents moved from Nigeria to Greece in an attempt to start a better life in Europe. It was in Greece that Giannis’ older brother Thanasis, and younger brothers Kostas and Alex, were born.

Charles and Veronica Antetokounmpo were undocumented immigrants, with kids who did not have Nigerian nor Greek papers. This meant that any day, the authorities could knock on the family’s door and deport them back to Nigeria.

This incentivized the Antetokounmpo kids to trust no one, behave themselves, and keep quiet. In a January interview with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, Antetokounmpo said that when he first arrived in Milwaukee he feared that somebody would wake him from his dream, send him home, and “take it all away from me”.

Giannis’ parents struggled to find work in Greece, and the Antetokounmpos were very tight on money. When they were kids, Giannis and his older brother Thanasis would sell sunglasses, handbags, and watches to earn money for the family. If they didn’t make any money on a particular day, the family might not eat dinner that night. Giannis gained his tireless work ethic from those nights as a kid in Greece.

When he was 12, Giannis picked up a basketball and began training, molding his lanky frame into the body of an athlete. He loved basketball, because he saw that the amount of time he spent working on his game was directly correlated to his performance. He couldn’t control whether the tourists bought his trinkets, but he could control his own destiny on the basketball court.

He started playing for a neighborhood club in Athens, with one pair of shoes for him and his brother to share. But quickly his natural talent was noticed, and he earned a contract with a Greek second-division team, Filathlitikos, in 2012.

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Giannis played for Filathlitikos for just one season before he was taken fifteenth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. Even though he was expected to go in the mid-to-late teens of the draft, the Bucks received criticism for their selection. This was understandable, as Antetokounmpo was a relative unknown. As much as his physical tools projected success at the NBA level, he had never played against competition in the same stratosphere as the NBA.

Antetokounmpo had a rough rookie season, which was reasonable seeing as it was the 19-year-old’s first time in the United States. He averaged just 6.8 points per game, and was mostly an afterthought. Despite flashes of brilliance — a putback dunk here, a eurostep there — he had just as many moments where he seemed lost and the game looked too fast for him. The Bucks finished with the worst record in the NBA that year, but Antetokounmpo made strides as the year went on.

In Antetokounmpo’s second year, he improved his stats in all five major statistical categories and boosted his scoring to 12.8 points per game. He was a primary starter for a Bucks team that improved to .500 and made the playoffs as the sixth seed. Antetokounmpo got his first taste of playoff action, but he played horribly and shot just 37% for the series. He also got ejected in Game 6 of the first round for bodychecking Mike Dunleavy into the stands, and the Bucks were eliminated after losing by 54 points on their home court.

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After that playoff embarrassment,  Antetokounmpo returned in 2016 with a vengeance. The Bucks missed the playoffs, but a post-All-Star-break experiment by Head Coach Jason Kidd changed Antetokounmpo’s fortunes. Kidd experimented with the Greek Freak at point guard, and it was a magnificent success. Antetokounmpo improved his stats in all five major categories for the second straight year, and after the All-Star break he averaged 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 7.2 assists, while recording 5 triple-doubles.

This past season, Antetokounmpo broke out, showing that his 2016 second-half was not a fluke. He established career-highs in all five major statistical categories for the third straight season, and led the Bucks in each category, becoming just the fifth player to accomplish that feat. Antetokounmpo piloted his team to the playoffs, even though his two sidekicks, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, played exactly one game together due to injury. The Greek Freak also became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in all five statistical categories, an incredible accomplishment.

This past season, Antetokounmpo broke out, showing that his 2016 second-half was not a fluke. He established career-highs in all five major statistical categories for the third straight season, and led the Bucks in each category, becoming just the fifth player to accomplish that feat. Antetokounmpo piloted his team to the playoffs, even though his two sidekicks, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, played exactly one game together due to injury. The Greek Freak also became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in all five statistical categories, an incredible accomplishment.

Antetokounmpo finished the season averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.9 blocks this year; a truly remarkable stat line.

All of these accolades earned him spots on the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams, and he was voted the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

Antetokounmpo’s past drives him to improve every day, and as his late-nights as a street-vendor in Athens have turned into late-night workouts in Milwaukee, he has maintained his indefatigable march toward greatness.

Thanks to Basketball Reference for these helpful stats and Sports Illustrated for their article on Antetokounmpo.

Thanks also to Wikimedia Commons for the picture of Antetokounmpo playing against the Cavaliers

By Erik Drost (Giannis Antetokoummpo) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons