Cavs deal Irving, land Thomas from Celtics in blockbuster

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded All-Star Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for fellow point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first-round pick on Tuesday.

“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,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in announcing the deal Tuesday night. “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.”

Irving, 25, met with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert in July to request a trade, with a desire to be more of a focal point on a team without LeBron James. He had a list of preferred destinations, but Cleveland has been steadfast in receiving proven young talent in return. They found a trade partner in the Celtics, which will only serve to ratchet up the burgeoning rivalry between two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Irving averaged a career-best 25.2 points per game last season, and has three years and $60 million left on his current contract. He can opt out of the final year before the 2019-20 season.

Mar 1, 2017: Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving attempts to block a shot by Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas during the first quarter at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Thomas, 28, averaged 28.9 points and 5.9 assists during the regular season last year. He missed the final three games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs due to a right hip injury. He opted not to have surgery and is continuing to recover. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said on Monday that he was not sure if Thomas would be ready for the start of training camp, with more tests scheduled for September.

Thomas, who will become a free agent next offseason, has stated he believes he is worthy of a max contract. He is also considered to be a huge defensive liability and when asked by reporters Tuesday night if Thomas’ hip injury played a role in the trade, Ainge said, “some.”

Meanwhile, James can also opt out of the final year of his contract next summer and become a free agent, so Tuesday’s deal is a clear indication the Cavs are trying to make a strong run at another NBA title while also bracing for the massive uncertainty facing the front office beyond next season.

That is what made Crowder, Zizic and the Nets’ first-round pick critical in completing the blockbuster trade.

Crowder, 27, averaged 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds last season. He is scheduled to earn $6.8 million, $7.3 million and $7.8 million over the next three seasons and is not eligible to become a free agent until the summer of 2020.

“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.”

Zizic, 20, was Boston’s first-round draft pick in 2016 and the 23rd overall pick. The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Croatian was also part of the deal for salary cap purposes. He is considered a developmental big man who played in the summer league this year. Zizic also played for former Cavs coach David Blatt in the Adriatic Basketball Association.

The deal will give Cleveland a $29.1 million tax savings.

Then there is the unprotected first-round pick from the Nets, which is arguably the prize of the deal for Cleveland. Brooklyn spent significantly this offseason to upgrade its roster with D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll among the newcomers, but the Nets are still expected to finish among the bottom half of the Eastern Conference next season, setting the Cavs up to receive a potential lottery pick with the uncertain long-term futures of James and Thomas.

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