Danny Ainge has rolled the dice once again after the Celtics acquired superstar Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers for All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and the Nets unprotected first-round pick in 2018 on Tuesday night.
In a press conference with reporters, via phone the Celtics president of basketball operations formally announced the trade and answered questions about his new point guard.
“Kyrie is one of the best scorers in the NBA. He has proven that on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, the last three years,” said Ainge. “He’s been an NBA Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and a four-time All-Star. For all he’s accomplished, we think his best years are ahead of him.”Ainge added that Tuesday's deal was bittersweet for him and the Celtics organization.
"This has obviously been a roller coaster of a day for us, trading away Isaiah and Jae and Ante, especially Isaiah and Jae, who have been such a big part of our team and our success and our Celtic culture as leaders of our team. Very, very difficult day," Ainge said. "At the same time, a very exciting time [to add] one of the best offensive players in the league."Of course, Ainge had very high praise for both Thomas and Crowder and all did for the Celtics and city of Boston.
“Isaiah embodied what it meant to be a Celtic. He captured fans’ hearts not only with his spirit, but his personality,” said Ainge. “Jae’s toughness was contagious for our team. He improved his skills each year, but it’s his energy and fight that will be remembered. We wish them and their families the very best.”Ainge wouldn't go into any specifics about a very tough phone call he made to inform Thomas, who was acquired by the Celtics back at the NBA trade deadline in 2015, and became the face of the franchise during his time in Boston.
“Those are private conversations,” Ainge said. “I’m not gonna share my conversation with Isaiah. I can leave it to your imagination how difficult that conversation was for me and Isaiah. And Kyrie was very excited about coming to the Celtics.”
Ainge added: "Everybody fell in love with him; such an underdog with his (5-foot-9) size and his heart. It was challenging making this decision.”The Celtics kept a close eye on the Cavaliers situation from the moment Irving requested a trade out of Cleveland, no longer wanting to play with LeBron James. Ainge made the best possible offer without giving up young prospects Jason Tatum or Jaylen Brown.
"It is a high price tag," he said. "But acquiring a 25-year-old perennial All-Star, a player that fits a timeline for us and is a fantastic offensive player, one of the best offensive players in the league, you have to pay a heavy price."When asked about the Nets' 2018 pick and if it was difficult to include a potential top-three selection in next year's draft, Ainge had this to say.
"We valued it from the time we got it, and it's still very valuable. Obviously, we value Kyrie more. It's that simple."Irving, 25, averaged a career-high 25.2 points, shooting 47.3 percent from the field (40-percent from behind the arc) and 90.5 percent at the free throw line to go along with 5.8 assists. He has three-years, $60 million dollars left on his current contract and opt out before the 2019-20 season.
According to the Celtics Instagram account, Irving will wear No. 11 because his No. 2 is already retired in Boston for Red Auerbach.
Thomas, 28, led the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, averaging 28.9 points (career-high) and 5.9 assists over 33.8 minutes per game during the 2017-18 campaign, has decided to not have surgery after recovering from a right hip injury that forced him to miss three games of the conferance finals this past May.
“There’s probably a little bit of delay for Isaiah to start this year,” Ainge said when asked if that played a factor into the decision to pull the trigger on this deal.Crowder, 27, averaged 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season, was also a huge part of the core that made the Celtics relevant again over the past three years. He has one of the friendliest contracts in the NBA which will pay him $6.8 million, $7.3 million and $7.8 million for the next three seasons, making a free agent in the summer of 2020.
Zizic, 20, was the Celtics' first-round pick in 2016 (23rd overall) and at 6'11'' and 240 pounds could make the Cavaliers rotation or simply be regarded as a 'throw-in' for salary purposes.
Irving waived a $5.8 million trade kicker -- 15 percent of the total money remaining on his Cleveland deal -- to join the Celtics and will forfeit even more money when the summer of 2019 comes around and it will be time to re-up in Boston or elsewhere.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman summed up this seismic trade between the Celtics and the Cavaliers during his appearance on Boston's sports radio WEEI on Wednesday morning:
“Let’s face it: Isaiah was perfect for this team over the last two years, because they didn’t have anybody else who could make a play off the bounce. So he was ideal for this team the last two years to give them credibility,” Goodman explained. “I think Danny Ainge is looking at this saying, ‘Steph Curry is 29, Kevin Durant is 29.” In three or four years when you’ve got Gordon Hayward still in his prime, and Kyrie in his prime, and Jayson Tatum is going to be really good guys, really good. And, oh by the way, you may have a pick that’s 2-5 next year if that’s what the Lakers get.” [WEEI]The Celtics head to Cleveland to take on the Cavs opening night of the NBA regular season on October 17 (TNT).
Photo used courtesy of Celtics.com