Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving got his wish — but it likely came at the expense of the Knicks as Irving is headed to the Celtics for point guard Isaiah Thomas in a blockbuster deal Tuesday night between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers also received forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 unprotected first-round pick. Irving, considered the NBA’s best scorer off the dribble, averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists last season. Thomas, who is recovering from a right hip injury, averaged 28.9 and 5.9.
Irving likely will get the adulation with the Celtics he determined was lacking in Cleveland in the shadow cast by LeBron James.
“Kyrie is one of the best scorers in the NBA,’’ Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in a statement. “He has proved that on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, the last three years . . . We think his best years are ahead of him.’’
Irving was quoted as saying he was “thrilled’’ with the trade.
Most observers believe the balance of power in the East will shift to the Celtics, especially if James opts out of his contract next summer, but Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman was pleased with the deal, saying: “This trade needed to include both players and assets that we felt strongly could help us continue to compete for championships and we believe it does.’’
The Cavaliers host the Celtics in the season opener Oct. 17.
Meanwhile, the Knicks presumably are still trying to peddle Carmelo Anthony in a saga that threatens to enter its second season, Irving’s trade directly into the Atlantic Division came just a month after he demanded to be traded. A league source termed Anthony’s situation with the Knicks as “status quo.’’ Talks aimed at sending Anthony to the Rockets, said to be the only team to which he has agreed to be traded, apparently have not progressed.
The Knicks were one of four teams Irving listed as his desired destination but any talks between the Cavaliers and Knicks were muted because the Cavaliers reportedly were targeting Kristaps Porzingis. A league source said that was a nonstarter for the Knicks. The Cavaliers were thought to be targeting a player of Porzingis’ ability because of James’ potential opt-out.
Irving, 25, stunned his organization and the league when he essentially told owner Dan Gilbert he no longer wanted to play alongside James, who at times was critical of Irving. In 2014, Irving said James was upset at him after a game in which Irving had no assists. Yet, James was quoted as saying Irving’s trade request “blindsided’’ him. James and Irving were instrumental in bringing the Cavaliers an NBA title in 2016. Irving’s three-pointer with 53.4 seconds left in Game 7 broke an 89-all tie with the Warriors.
Gilbert and James took the high road after the deal was announced. “On behalf of the entire franchise, I want to thank Kyrie Irving for the six impressive years he spent in Cleveland wearing the Cavaliers uniform,’’ Gilbert said in a statement. “From the moment we won the 2011 NBA lottery that put us in position to draft Kyrie to ‘The Shot’ that sealed our first NBA championship and all of the electrifying play that made him a joy to watch, excitement was always in the air when it came to Kyrie Irving.”
James, on his Twitter account, said Irving is a “special talent/ guy! Nothing but respect and what a ride it was our 3 years together.”
Reports out of Cleveland said Irving waived a $5.8-million trade kicker to facilitate the Celtics deal. Irving has an estimated $60 million left on his contract with an opt-out after the 2019-20 season. Thomas will earn $6.3 million in the 2017-18 season but reportedly has said he will look for a maximum deal next summer.
Cleveland’s unknown quantity in the deal is the potential No. 1 overall draft pick next year. The Celtics had received the pick when it traded aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets in 2013.