By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When the Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavliers two summers ago, many saw the move as a slam dunk for Boston. Even if Irving leaves this offseason, after a tumultuous 2018-19 season, the move should go into the books as a win for the Celtics.
Unless you ask Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who believes the Cavaliers “killed it” in the Irving swap. Somehow, ending up with Collin Sexton and Ante Zizic is “killing it” in Gilbert’s mind. How silly.
The Celtics sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Zizic and what became the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft in their move for Irving. While Sexton showed some promise during his rookie campaign, Thomas and Crowder didn’t mesh with LeBron James’ team and were traded before they played a full season in Cleveland. Zizic is just kind of there, though at least he’s still on the roster, we guess.
That barely quantifies as “killing it” for the Cavaliers in the swap. But Gilbert said given Irving’s trade demand two summers ago, they had to make a move and he’s happy with their return given those circumstances.
“We had to trade him when we did. What team would want Kyrie with only one year on his contract knowing he could leave after the season? You won’t get much back (under those circumstances),” Gilbert told The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto. “The agent was telling us, if we don’t trade him, there is some surgery he is on the borderline of having on his knee. It was possible he could be out for most of the year. It turned out to be true.”
What Gilbert was getting at was the Cavaliers would have gotten even less for Irving had they waited another year to make the move (not to mention the threat of Irving sitting out the season to get knee surgery). In that sense, he’s right.
Irving was under the team’s control for at least two seasons when Boston acquired him, and despite Gordon Hayward’s opening night injury, the Celtics looked destined to make a deep playoff run with Irving leading the way. But then Irving had to undergo two surgeries on his balky knee, and it was Boston’s young core that ended up leading them to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to LeBron and the Cavaliers in seven games. Now it’s looking like Irving will opt out and leave Boston via free agency after a disappointing postseason run in 2018-19. While the trade certainly isn’t on the same level as Danny Ainge’s Brooklyn heist back in 2013, it’s pretty clear that the Celtics still won the trade, even if Irving’s time in Boston may end with his horrible performance in the East semis against the Bucks.
Still, that wasn’t the most foolish thing Gilbert told Pluto. He went ahead and played the tampering game when it came to Irving’s future in Boston.
“I don’t know, but I think Kyrie will leave Boston,” said Gilbert. “We could have ended up with nothing. Looking back after all the moves [GM] Koby [Altman] made, we killed it in that trade.”
Irving is technically under Boston’s control until July 1, and owners aren’t supposed to talk about opposing players who are still under team control. Gilbert will likely be hearing from the NBA on that matter, though maybe they should also give him a wellness check based on his comments on the trade.