If you didn’t like the Cleveland Cavaliers’ return in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, you’re bound to hate it now that they trail the Boston Celtics 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
No, Irving isn’t playing. He’s out for the year recovering from a knee injury. But the Cavaliers’ performance against an ostensibly shorthanded Celtics squad speaks to the raw deal they ended up accepting. Some of the parts, like Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, have been rerouted. Other inclusions, like Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets pick, cannot help the Cavaliers now. Their midseason overhaul was fueled largely by said return, turning their own first-rounder, Crowder, Thomas, Iman Shumpert and Derrick Rose into Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. is not paying off.
Some saw this coming. I must admit I was not one of them. I thought the Celtics overpaid for Irving at the time. Clearly, I was wrong. But it took me a while to get there. It wasn’t like that for everyone. Most notably, it wasn’t like that for some of the incumbent Cavs players.
The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd relayed a discussion he had with one member of the team during the regular season following Cleveland’s Game 2 loss to Boston. That player’s assessment was not a pretty one for the Cavs:
4. We have enough evidence now to call this how it is: The Kyrie Irving trade has been a disaster. Jae Crowder never adjusted to his role here, and Isaiah Thomas never returned to the player he once was. Instead, he was run out of town right about the time he opened his mouth and missed his first shot.
5. The toxicity level was so high at one point during this season in Hiroshima that one Cavs player turned and looked at me after one of many particularly ugly winter losses.
6. “Danny Ainge is a fucking thief,” he said. No explanation needed.
That you, LeBron?
Look, the Cavaliers might still win this series. Yours truly expects them to. I don’t feel good about it, but it’s possible. At the same time, there’s nothing they can do to win this trade. Irving could be hampered by knee injuries the rest of his career, and the Cavaliers will still have failed to properly value his worth during the summer of 2017. And now, they must live with the consequences, which could include a pre-NBA Finals exit and, possibly, the departure of LeBron James.