Kyrie Irving got his wish and will no longer be playing with LeBron James. The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a massive blockbuster, destiny-altering trade with the Boston Celtics late on Tuesday night.
The Celtics will receive the mercurial and slightly petulant Kyrie Irving while the Cavaliers receive Isaiah Thomas, former Marquette standout Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first round pick. Thomas was an all-start this past season and the Nets pick is expected to be a top lottery pick.
The Cavs were reportedly blindsided by Irving’s request to leave Cleveland earlier this summer. After completing a run in which the Cavs went to three consecutive NBA Finals, the Cavs were expected to continue to represent the paper thin Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals for the next several years.
Kyrie Irving shook the NBA in June by saying he no longer wanted to play alongside LeBron James. James, the most unselfish and team-oriented player of his caliber to ever play basketball, was reportedly frustrated enough with that news that he wanted to put hands on Irving.
Irving, for his part, said he didn’t want to be LeBron’s “son” anymore and was sick of the way the world revolved around LeBron. He wanted space to make his own decisions about how the team would play on the floor and wanted to receive the kinds of off-the-court accolades LeBron enjoys as well.
Short and simple? He wanted his own band. He was sick of being Jermaine Jackson. He was ready to become Michael.
After a frustrating 2017 NBA Finals in which he was badly outplayed by Golden State’s Stephen Curry the Cavaliers had allowed Irving’s name to be part of trade rumors around the time of the NBA Draft in late June. Irving reportedly was furious when he heard that he’d been dangled (reports varied in terms of veracity).
The Cavs had recently fired General Manager and Kyrie mentor David Griffen, which was another blow. Kyrie, who like many players of his generation, can be very thin-skinned didn’t like the direction the team appeared headed in. He quietly asked the team to move on and send him elsewhere.
Irving’s trade request became public a couple of weeks later with him standing firm on it. He said that the primary reason for his request was that he no longer could co-exist with James and didn’t trust the team’s process.
When Irving was drafted by the team in 2011, Lebron James was playing in Miami. The situation in Cleveland was beyond dire having been burned badly by James’ departure.
Irving proved to indeed be a blue chipper, capable of dizzying offensive outbursts. In 2014, he signed a major contract extension that would make him the centerpiece of the Cavs organization for the next 5 years. It was a huge boon for a man who viewed himself as a franchise player. Irving aspired to become the most elite point guard in the NBA.
A week later Lebron James returned to Cleveland like the most beloved family member who had ever died and been resurrected spectacularly at a church picnic. James’ arrival immediately changed the fortunes of the perennially lottery bound Cavs. It also snuffed out Irving’s place at the head of the table.
What is wild is how that bothered Irving. Playing alongside Lebron James is a dream come true for most basketball players. Since his return to Cleveland, Lebron has taken the Cavs to three consecutive NBA Finals including the biggest comeback in NBA Finals history when they defeated the Warriors in Game 7 to win the 2016 NBA title.
For most players that would be the pinnacle of their careers. But Irving was unhappy. He felt undervalued by James. Cast aside by ownership and management. And, most of all, delusional about what his role in all of it had been.
The trade happened as suddenly and surprisingly as Irving’s comments about James had been. The Cavaliers were willing to send Irving to their immediate Eastern Conference rival in the Boston Celtics.
On Boston, Irving will join a newly formed nucleus. He will team up with recently signed All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward as well as the 3rd pick in the 2017 NBA draft Jayson Tatum of Duke. Blue chip young players Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, along with All-Star center Al Horford fill out the Celtics impressive roster.
It’s go time for Irving. The Celtics are an elite team but are also a team with the deepest winning tradition in all of sports. Irving wants the accolades. He wants the adulation of the fans and the respect of his peers. Like Lebron James has.
Now it’s time to find out if he really can do what Lebron James does. If he can’t, no fan base will expose him like Boston’s.
The Celtics and Cavaliers meet in Cleveland opening night on October 17.