Kyrie for IT: Ainge Pulls Off Another Amazing Move

Kyrie Irving is a Celtic, and Danny Ainge pulled off yet another great deal without sentimentality. The bottom line is that you win championships in the NBA with two or three max-contract starts. The old adage in the NBA: the team that gets the best players wins the deal, and this is a perfect example. Kyrie is a top-10 obvious max-contract star. Isaiah Thomas is simply not. Don’t get me wrong: Isaiah Thomas is one of my favorite all-time players, for all his offensive magic in just 2 1/2 seasons in Boston. But that’s because he was 5’8″ and overcame his lack of size and his vulnerabilities to physical play and injury. Iverson couldn’t survive that style of play past the age of 30, and IT is 28. Kyrie is 24. Kyrie is not a good defender, but IT was a defensive liability on a totally different scale. The Celtics had to cover for his weakness on defense by pairing him with two of the best defensive guards in the NBA (Bradley and Smart), and even then, it was touch-and-go. And they couldn’t keep Bradley. IT said he expected a long max-contract after this year, and Ainge rightly knew that IT wasn’t worth that money. If you watched the Bulls-Celtics first round series, you saw Rondo expose IT’s offensive weaknesses because of his height. Ainge, the Celtics’ PG of the 1980s, obviously saw the same problems, and the rest of the NBA’s coaches saw it, too. The Celtics were never going to win a title relying on Isaiah to carry the offense.

So we were looking at only one more year with IT, or a max-contract extension for Kyrie for the next decade. I love Jae Crowder, but he was getting squeezed out with the acquisitions of Hayward and Morris (as well as Brown and Tatum). Who knows if Zizic can play in the NBA? In all honesty, the asset that is the most worrisome was the Nets’ No. 1, but it seems that pick is more likely to be the No. 4-6 pick overall. (The Suns, Pacers, Bulls, Kings, and Lakers are worse). Who knows what will be available after the top 3, and when that youngster will be good? The pick they got in June for flipping picks with the Sixers is probably going to be better anyway. Some will say that Kyrie isn’t a good teammate if he couldn’t get along with LeBron, but can understand such conflict with an overbearing star, and Kyrie comes to Boston as the clear offensive Number 1, and the co-stars Horford and Hayward don’t come close to demanding the same attention. My only concern is that the Celtics traded these assets for Kyrie when they could have been used for Anthony Davis, but if Davis is actually available, they can still get him with Tatum and the other high picks they held. And that’s the other great part of the deal: not trading Tatum, Brown, or their other picks. Sure, be sentimental about losing IT and Crowder, but don’t ignore the facts: Ainge made a great deal.

Author: Jed Shugerman

Legal historian at Fordham Law School, teaching Torts, Administrative Law, and Constitutional History. JD/PhD in History, Yale. Red Sox and Celtics fan, youth soccer coach. Author of "The People's Courts: Pursuing Judicial Independence in America" (2012) on the rise of judicial elections in America. I filed an amicus brief in the Emoluments litigation against Trump along with a great team of historians. I'm working on "The Rise of the Prosecutor Politicians," a history of prosecutors and American politics, and another project on the origins of independent agencies in America.

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