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Review of the Celtics & Cavaliers Megatrade

Photo courtesy of RON SCHWANE/AP.

To begin, let me make one thing very clear – Kyrie Irving is a better player than Isaiah Thomas. Now that that’s out of the way, it’s easier to break down the monumental trade between the Celtics and the Cavaliers in greater depth.

First, what were the details of the trade?

  • The Celtics received Kyrie Irving.
  • The Cavaliers received Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets 2018 first round pick.


Isaiah Thomas 76 33.8 .625 18.5 8.7 32.8 1.9 7.0 4.4 26.6 597.9 19.9
Kyrie Irving 72 35.1 .580 19.3 8.3 29.9 2.3 7.5 5.0 23.1 455.6 15.2
Jae Crowder 72 .32.4 .613 14.8 7.6 16.1 2.3 17.3 9.9 15.0 156.5 5.2


Stats Glossary (courtesy of ESPN)

  • TS%: True Shooting Percentage – what a player’s shooting percentage would be if we accounted for free throws and 3-pointers. True Shooting Percentage = Total points / [(FGA + (0.44 x FTA)]
  • AST: Assist Ratio – the percentage of a player’s possessions that ends in an assist. Assist Ratio = (Assists x 100) divided by [(FGA + (FTA x 0.44) + Assists + Turnovers]
  • TO: Turnover Ratio – the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in a turnover. Turnover Ratio = (Turnover x 100) divided by [(FGA + (FTA x 0.44) + Assists + Turnovers]
  • USG: Usage Rate – the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes. Usage Rate = {[FGA + (FT Att. x 0.44) + (Ast x 0.33) + TO] x 40 x League Pace} divided by (Minutes x Team Pace)
  • ORR: Offensive rebound rate
  • DRR: Defensive rebound rate
  • REBR: Rebound Rate – the percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds. Rebound Rate = (100 x (Rebounds x Team Minutes)) divided by [Player Minutes x (Team Rebounds + Opponent Rebounds)]
  • PER: Player Efficiency Rating is the overall rating of a player’s per-minute statistical production. The league average is 15.00 every season.
  • VA: Value Added – the estimated number of points a player adds to a team’s season total above what a ‘replacement player’ (for instance, the 12th man on the roster) would produce. Value Added = ([Minutes * (PER – PRL)] / 67). PRL (Position Replacement Level) = 11.5 for power forwards, 11.0 for point guards, 10.6 for centers, 10.5 for shooting guards and small forwards
  • EWA: Estimated Wins Added – Value Added divided by 30, giving the estimated number of wins a player adds to a team’s season total above what a ‘replacement player’ would produce.
  • Player Efficiency Rating (PER) League average: 15.0


Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a per-minute comparison stat that allows all players in the NBA To be measured against each other for skill and team value. Obviously all statistics have their flaws, and PER heavily favorites offensively-minded players rather than defensively minded players. For example, Draymond Green, last season’s defensive player of the year winner, finished with a PER of 16.5, slightly above the NBA average of 15. This statistic makes Green appear like he’s only an above average player, but his value to the Warriors defensively and offensively is immensely greater than his stat suggests.


Isaiah Thomas was the name player on the Celtics the last two seasons. He finished fifth in MVP voting in 2016-17 and helped lead the team to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. His PER was 7th best in the league, but realistically, he was a liability on defense due to his small stature. While Kyrie is almost equally as bad at defense, he also was not the number one man on his team, LeBron was. Looking at which player had a greater contribution to their team when comparing Thomas and Irving is unfair due to the players around them. Stephen Curry didn’t suddenly become a horrible player since his points per game dropped from 30.1 in 2015-16 to 25.3 in 2016-17. Kevin Durant joined the Warriors and started to gain a greater share of the point spread, leaving Curry to drop off slightly in the stat column.


Thomas had a higher PER than Irving since it was his name that led the headlines for the Celtics. Kyrie was the second in command at Cleveland, but he’s still a better player. Remember when Kyrie dropped 40+ points on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals last season? So now the question remains – how much better is Kyrie than Thomas?


Thomas had one season left on his contract, and he expected a max contract from the Celtics after his current one expired. So by trading Isaiah, they get a return on their investment because Danny Ainge had no intention on giving IT a max contract. This part of the trade is logical at least. As the name player, Kyrie has the potential to put up Russell Westbrook – like numbers even with Gordon Hayward and others by his side. Kyrie is also 3 years younger than Thomas…and it’s very possible that we just witnessed the peak of Isaiah Thomas’ career last season (not that he won’t see success in the future still).


Unfortunately, Ainge also traded away one of his best contracts on the team in Jae Crowder. Crowder was only expected to earn about $7 million for the next three seasons, and as one of the few players who is defensively strong enough to body up against players like LeBron James, his defensive presence will be missed in Boston. Crowder also hit 39.8% of his 3 point attempts last season (only .3% less than Kyrie Irving). His PER ignores his defensive presence and importance on the court. During the Eastern Conference Finals, Crowder held LeBron to just over 29 points per game, the lowest amount in James’ career in a postseason series.


Was Crowder the end-all-be-all of this trade though? Of course not. Him and Thomas make sense for Kyrie Irving. Throw Ante Zizic in the mix and the trade is just about even. Zizic was a first round pick (23rd overall) in 2016 for the Celtics, and the 6’11” forward/center has some potentially impressive years ahead of him.


Here’s the thing though, Zizic wasn’t going to make his NBA career as a Celtic, so it’s not a huge loss to them in the long run. Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving are a one for one position-wise, so there’s no reason to be upset other than the sentimental loss of IT4 for the Celtics fan base. Trading Crowder also opens up room for players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to step into the ring. Brown put up impressive per-minute numbers last season as a rookie, but really didn’t break through because he wasn’t a starter. Brown had an impressive Summer League this offseason however, and things are only looking better for the third overall pick in 2016. Tatum will also fill a similar role from the bench. The Celtics also acquired Marcus Morris in exchange for Avery Bradley and a 2019 second round pick. Trading Crowder puts Morris into the starting lineup without any question.


The one thing that doesn’t make sense? Trading the 2018 Net’s first round draft pick. In case anyone forgot, the Nets are garbage. That first round draft pick is a guaranteed top 5 pick. What’s the value in trading it away from the Celtics’ perspective when they already have a fair deal on the table with Thomas, Crowder, and Zizic? This is the sole reason why I say the Cavaliers won the trade. Yes, the Celtics freed up more cap space, but they’re still not in the top 10 even, so it’s not necessary for them to think with the salary cap in mind. The trade does, however, put Cleveland as the team with the highest payroll currently with $129 million.


The Cavs eliminated a poor locker room presence (Irving made it very clear this offseason that he wanted out) and brought in a very similar replacement with additional stars as well. The addition of the first round draft pick makes no sense for Danny Ainge (who absolutely loves hoarding assets as a GM). It’s simply a nice bonus that is quite frankly unnecessary.


Look at the projected starting lineups for each team below. Regardless of who one the trade, it’s going to be a contested battle for first place and a spot in the NBA finals this season.



PG – Kyrie Irving

SG – Jaylen Brown

SF – Gordon Hayward

PF – Marcus Morris

C – Al Horford



PG – Isaiah Thomas

SG – Jae Crowder

SF – LeBron James

PF – Kevin Love

C – Tristan Thompson


Which team would you rather be on?

Connor Dolan
Connor is co-founder of First And Fan and head of all website operations. He's a die hard Boston sports fan with a passion for sports, media, and all things David Ortiz.