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

Who Deserves Each Award? from MVP to Game Winner of the Year

By Connor Pignatello

The NBA will host its inaugural awards show on June 26, and the event is sure to have lots of flair. It’s hosted by Drake, contains fan voting for the first time, and will showcase the very best basketball players-on the court and off.

In addition to awards like the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Coach of the Year — awards that have been around for over fifty years — there are six new awards entirely voted on by the fans, like Dunk of the Year, Block of the Year, and Performance of the Year.

The first awards show promises to be filled with style, so let’s get to it. Here are my predictions for some of the awards to be announced on Monday.

Most Valuable Player

Nominees: James Harden, Houston Rockets; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Although the award seemed to be an even battle between Russell Westbrook and James Harden throughout most of the year, Westbrook distanced himself from his former teammate down the stretch. Westbrook broke the record for most triple-doubles in a season (42), becoming only the second player ever to average a triple-double for an entire season (only Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season had accomplished that feat), and won the scoring title.

Although Harden and Kawhi Leonard (both members of the First-team All-NBA) both had historic seasons, Westbrook’s legendary year was one of the greatest individual seasons ever for the sport, and that’s why I predict that Russell Westbrook will win MVP.

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Coach of the Year

Nominees: Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets; Eric Spoelstra, Miami Heat; Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Even though each candidate has a case for the award, Mike D’Antoni engineered the biggest improvement in his squad. The Rockets improved by 14 wins after D’Antoni took over the reigns of the club, and they captured the third seed in the Western Conference after barely squeaking into the Playoffs as the eighth seed last year.

Gregg Popovich’s situation is much like Lebron James, James doesn’t win MVP every year even though he is widely recognized as the best player, and Popovich doesn’t achieve Coach of the Year honors every year even though he is known to be the premier coach in the league.

Eric Spoelstra also deserves some recognition for his efforts. The Heat coach took a 11-30 team that looked bound the basement of the Eastern Conference, and turned them around in the second half of the season, with a sterling record of 30-11.

Although the race for Coach of the Year is close, the 14-win improvement of D’Antoni’s Rockets is why I predict that Mike D’Antoni will win Coach of the Year.

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Rookie of the Year

Nominees: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

This year’s rookie class is shaping up to be one of the weakest in the history of the NBA. The draft class is so lackluster that not a single 2016 first round pick was nominated for the award. Malcolm Brogdon was a second rounder, Dario Saric was a draft-and-stash prospect from 2014, and Joel Embiid was effectively the same, out due to injury the past two seasons.

The rest of the rookie class didn’t fair well either, as #1 pick Ben Simmons missed the entire year because of a foot injury, and #2 pick Brandon Ingram finished dead last in the NBA metric Total Points Added, a measure of how much a player helps (or hinders) his team. 

Embiid would have won the awards hands down, as he nearly made the All-Star game, but he played only 31 out of 81 games because of a torn meniscus. If Embiid wins, the amount of games he played will be far and away the least ever for a Rookie of the Year winner. If Brogdon wins, his points per game average of 10.2 will be the lowest ever for a Rookie of the Year winner. And if Saric wins, his points per game average of 12.8 will be the fourth lowest ever for a Rookie of the Year winner.

Ultimately, I predict Brogdon to win Rookie of the Year honors because he was a steady, consistent, reliable option for the Bucks, he was the only rookie to post a triple-double, and he shot 40% from three-point range, whereas Saric didn’t shoot over 40% from the field until after February.

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Most Improved Player

Nominees: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz, Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

This has always been one of my favorite awards, because most of the time, the winner has gone on to become a star. Recent winners include: C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and Kevin Love. This year, three promising youngsters from up-and-coming teams are vying for this honor.

Nikola Jokic became the centerpiece of the Denver Nuggets, and thanks to his wondrous passing skills and strong rebounding ability, the Nuggets rose from 19th in offensive rating in 2016 to 4th in 2017. 

Another player who had a much-improved year was Rudy Gobert. The ‘Stifle Tower’ was a member of the Second-team All-NBA, finished the year fourth in rebounds per game and led the league in blocks per game.

However, the player I think should win the award is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The ‘Greek Freak’ carried his young team to the playoffs and became just the fifth player in league history to lead his team in every major statistical category (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks). Antetokounmpo also became the first player ever to finish in the top 25 of every major statistical category, and he has improved his stats in every category in each of his years in the league. Antetokounmpo’s improvement from a 6.8 point scorer in his rookie season to a 22.9 point scorer this past year is why I think he should win Most Improved Player.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Nominees: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Despite Kawhi Leonard winning this award the past two seasons, I predict that he will lose his title this year.

Rudy Gobert has come on strong this season, garnering Most Improved Player consideration, and blocking shot after shot on his way.

Draymond Green, after second-place finishes the last two seasons, has tried even harder this year to claim this elusive award.

Either Green or Gobert lead pretty much every defensive metric or statistical category.

Green leads Gobert in Defensive Points Saved.. But Gobert beats out Green in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus.

Gobert has the edge in Defensive Win Shares, but Green has the advantage in Defensive Box Plus Minus.

Green leads the league in steals per game, while Gobert leads the Association in blocks.

Green produced the first ever triple double in the history of the NBA without scoring ten points, whereas Gobert recorded 25 rebounds in a single game, the most of any player this year.

It’s extremely close, but I predict Draymond Green will win thanks to his ability to guard all five positions and the fact that his Warriors defeated Gobert’s Jazz in the Playoffs.

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Sixth Man of the Year

Nominees: Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets; Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets

Lou Williams and Eric Gordon, now teammates after a midseason trade, will battle it out for the distinction of being Houston and the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

Also a nominee is the always-reliable Andre Iguodala, the 13-year veteran and 2015 NBA Finals MVP. Iguodala is frequently tasked with defending the opponent’s best wing, and this year he shot a career high 52.8% from the field.

Although Williams and Gordon are not assets defensively — they were each in the bottom ten of the NBA in Defensive Points Saved — the two shooting guards lit up the three point arc, as they were both in the top 25 in three-point makes and attempts.

The duo from Houston also were one-two in points per game off the bench as Williams checked in at 17.5 and Gordon at 16.2.

Ultimately, both players saw a resurgence in their careers this year, but Gordon was more efficient than Williams and made more threes, which is why I predict that Eric Gordon will win Sixth Man of the Year

And now, for the fan awards!

Dunk of the Year

Nominees:

Larry Nance Jr. on Brook Lopez 

Zach Lavine on Alex Len  

Victor Oladipo on Dwight Howard  

We are given 3 posterizations to consider for Dunk of the Year: Larry Nance’s jam on Brook Lopez, Zach Lavine’s tomahawk dunk on Alex Len, and Victor Oladipo’s double pump finish on Dwight Howard.

Even though Oladipo’s dunk was on a former Defensive Player of the Year, and even though Zach Lavine brought the ball back farther, my personal favorite is Larry Nance’s hammer on Brook Lopez. Luckily for Lopez, he can’t get dunked on by Nance anymore since they are now teammates .

 

Best Style

Nominees: Iman Shumpert, Cleveland Cavaliers; Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

I believe that Dwyane Wade has the best style in the Association.

His looks are not outlandish like Shumpert and especially Westbrook, but they show his appreciation for fashion. Wade always looks good every pre game walk down the tunnel, every post game interview, and every public appearance; that’s why I think he has the best style in the NBA.

 

Block of the Year

Nominees:

Kawhi Leonard on James Harden

Kristaps Porzingis on Spencer Dinwiddie

Hassan Whiteside on Pascal Siakam 

Even though Kawhi Leonard’s chase down block on James Harden in the waning seconds of a close game is excellent, and even though Kristaps Porzingis’ backhanded grab block is incredible, Hassan Whiteside’s rejection is my personal favorite.

Whiteside seemingly jumped out of the sky and stole Pascal Siakam’s floater right out of the air. The ball was at least 12 feet high when Whiteside claimed it with an outstretched hand. That’s why I think he should win block of the year.

 

Game Winner of the Year

Nominees:

Kyrie Irving vs. the Golden State Warriors

Russell Westbrook vs. the Denver Nuggets

Tyler Ulis vs. the Boston Celtics 

Ah, Buzzer Beaters.

The craziest few seconds in all of sports. Both teams fortunes are changed in a matter of seconds and one team walks off the court in tears of joy while the other in tears of sadness.

Kyrie Irving’s fallaway jumper gave Cleveland a win over its archrival Golden State and gave America a Christmas Day moment to remember.

Tyler Ulis, a rookie second-round pick of the lowly Phoenix Suns and the third-shortest player in the league, stole the ball and hit a deep fadeaway three to sink the Celtics, who would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Although both of these moments were great, in my opinion they don’t compare to Russell Westbrook’s deeeeeep three-pointer to beat the Nuggets. The shot was memorable in many other ways, because it gave Westbrook a 50-point triple-double and the record for the most triple-doubles in a single season.

 

Performance of the Year

Nominees:

Devin Booker drops 70 on the Boston Celtics

James Harden’s 53-16-17 triple double the New York Knicks

Klay Thompson drops 60 points in 29 minutes against the Indiana Pacers

Russell Westbrook 57-12-13 triple double vs. the Orlando Magic

The 2016-17 season brought us many, many historic performances.

Russell Westbrook gave us one on March 29, where he broke the record for most points in a triple double. Westbrook’s 57 points, 12 rebounds, and 13 assists provided fans with a moment that will last in the history books forever.

Another triple-double that broke records was recorded by James Harden on New Years Eve against the Knicks. The Beard caught fire on the last day of the year en route to 53 points, 16 rebounds, and 17 assists, which not only tied the record for most points ever in a triple double (Westbrook broke this record in the game above) but it was the first line of its kind. Since Basketball Reference started recording data in 1984, no one has ever recorded a 50-15-15, except for Harden.

Another legendary performance this year was achieved by Klay Thompson against the Indiana Pacers. Thompson scored 60 points in just 29 minutes, the fewest minutes needed to score at least 60 points in NBA history. Thompson’s 2.07 points per minute was the second most points per minute in league history, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game.

However, I believe that the greatest performance of the year was Devin Booker’s 70 point explosion. Even though his Suns team did lose to the Celtics despite his 70 points, every player and fan walked out of the TD Garden that night believing in the star of Devin Booker. Booker, at just 20 years old, became the youngest player ever to score more than 55 points in a game, and that’s why I think he should win Performance of the Year.

 

Assist of the Year

Nominees:

Draymond Green to Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant

Nikola Jokic to Wilson Chandler

Chris Paul to Brandon Bass

After the NBA experienced a season of offensive brilliance this past year, here are the contenders for Assist of the Year.

Chris Paul, who has led the league in assists four times, has been one of the premier passers in the Association ever since he was drafted in 2005. In this assist, the Clippers floor general used a nasty wraparound pass to circumvent Tyler Johnson and James Johnson, giving Brandon Bass an easy dunk.

This past season, Nikola Jokic, the up-and-coming star for the Denver Nuggets who is also nominated for Most Improved Player, used his excellent passing chops to pilot one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. Jokic’s imaginative no-look-over-the-head pass to Wilson Chandler was one of the highlights of the season.

My favorite assist of the year was the three person alley-oop that Draymond Green, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant pulled off against the Pacers. Even though this was the same game that Klay Thompson scored 60 points, this three-person alley-oop was the play of the night. This was the game in which the NBA realized that Kevin Durant had, in fact, joined the Warriors, and this alley-oop to Durant perfectly encapsulates the how the Warriors stormed through the league this season.

 

Best Playoff Moment

Nominees:

Isaiah Thomas 53 point game just days after a personal tragedy

John Wall’s buzzer beating three forces a Game 7 in the ECSF

Kevin Durant’s game winning three in Game 3 of the NBA Finals

The NBA playoffs this year, although bland at times, brought us some spectacular moments.

Isaiah Thomas’ 53 points, just days after his sister passed away due to a car accident, was one of the most courageous performances I’ve ever witnessed. Thomas was visibly upset, but he fought through the pain and delivered a performance for the ages. Of Thomas’ 53, an astounding 29 points came in the 4th quarter and overtime, showing again and again that the shortest player in the league could fight with players much larger than him in stature.

Another memorable moment from the Eastern Conference Semifinals was John Wall’s winner in Game 6. The Wizards were down by 2, facing elimination, but John Wall received the inbounds pass with 7.7 seconds left and shot a rocket of a three pointer over the outstretched arm of Avery Bradley. Wall’s game winner with 3.5 seconds left showed that he was willing to do anything to keep his team alive.

Although those two moments from the second round of the playoffs are enduring, I believe that the most memorable moment of the postseason was Kevin Durant’s go-ahead three pointer in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Down by 2 with less than 50 seconds to go, Durant calmly took the ball up the court and before the Cavaliers defense was set, he unleashed a high arcing shot that landed in the bottom of the net. A Kyrie Irving miss and a few free throws later, the Warriors were up 3 games to 0.

Special thanks to Basketball Reference and NBA Math for all of these helpful statistics.

All Photos courtesy of NBA.com and I do not own them