CLEVELAND, Ohio – There’s an argument to be made that the Cleveland Cavaliers should never have traded Kyrie Irving, who sent a reminder of his brilliance this week with 75 points in two games combined against his former team on Wednesday and Friday. .
The Cavs should have called his bluff, let him undergo the threatened knee surgery, and come to terms with the throbbing headaches and potential chemistry issues that often come with a disgruntled star who not only got mentally checked but didn’t want to play another second with teammate LeBron James. The revamped front office could have bet on victory as a remedy for the combustible configuration. I could have kept hoping that a cranky Irving would have pulled away from his funk in time for the Cavs to pursue one final championship. The last hurray.
Anyone else can make that point.
The Cavs – who moved their record to 8-7 on Friday after beating Irving’s very powerful and hopeful Brooklyn Nets for the second time in three nights – aren’t where they are today without the deal. brave who was once considered unbalanced laughter. It turns out it was out of balance. Is still. This is not how most originally believed it.
The centerpiece of that summer 2017 blockbuster that sent Irving to Boston – and gave him the chance to be the “focal point” – was Collin Sexton. Well, technically the “Brooklyn Pick” that the Celtics held on tight. Many around the league didn’t think the Cavs could get him out. It was expected to be a golden ticket to one of the top spots in the 2018 NBA Draft before the Nets embarked on a Spencer Dinwiddie-led push at the end of the season, bringing down the Cavs in eighth place. No Luka Doncic. No Trae Young. No Deandre Ayton. Not even Jaren Jackson Jr.
The Cavs are done with Sexton, now the cultural backbone and cornerstone of this rebuild. Sexton, alone, helps distort perceptions of the maligned Irving trade.
A game after Sexton’s career night – noticing everyone in the league with a 42-point masterpiece, edging out Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden – the 22-year-old guard racked up 25 points to go with it nine assists. victory 125-113.
This is Sexton’s 14th consecutive game with at least 20 points – a streak stretching back to the 2019-20 season. He became the first player in Cavs history to open a season with over 20 points in his first 10 games. He continues to reach franchise brands that put him in the company of James and Irving.
It’s becoming a nightly event, with glimmers of all-star potential dating back to last December, when Sexton started its launch as one of the best in the Eastern Conference.
His backyard mate Darius Garland, who returned from an eight-game absence with a sprained right shoulder on Friday, voted early for his friend to earn All-Star recognition.
“He deserves it,” Garland said, nodding his head. “He comes in every night with the state of mind that you can’t stop him. And that’s what he’s showing to the league, that’s what he’s showing to the world and everyone who’s watching this basketball game. He goes where he wants. Involve teammates. I mean, a lot of people don’t do that. When you come out of a 42-point game, you’d expect them to probably make another 40 balls. He still has his buckets, but he makes everyone around him better. That’s what I like about Bull right now. He’s just locked up. He wants to win. We all want to win. We are all behind him.
In his third season, usually when youngsters “take the leap,” Sexton averages 26.8 points on 52.3% of the field and 46.8% on a 3-point range to go with 4.2 assists, 2 , 4 rebounds and 1.3 steals. His scoring average would be 10th, tied with MVP candidate Doncic, if Sexton had enough games to qualify.
A low-maintenance player who embodies the Cavaliers credo is one hell of a starting point for reassessing the Irving trade.
The Cavs also received Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Isaiah Thomas down. Not great – until you start following further.
Without Thomas, there is no Larry Nance Jr. The Cavs acquired Nance from the Los Angeles Lakers with Jordan Clarkson midway through the 2017-18 season. It cost Thomas, Channing Frye and a first-round pick. Thomas’ salary allowed the Lakers to get rid of Clarkson – a sticking point for them to ditch the budding Nance.
Now in his third full season with the Cavs – and sixth overall – Nance is a key part of that core. He’s the all-rounder in the middle of a career year, averaging 11.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.4 steals.
Analytical darling, some of Cleveland’s follow-ups indicate he’s one of the team’s most impactful players. Nance, who is under contract during the 2022-23 season, has a developing 3-point shot, reaching 42.9% beyond the arc this season. He also looks more at ease as a playmaker, a role he was never granted in Los Angeles. But the other end is where it shines, proud of its on-off rating and always looking for more-less. Integral to the team’s defensive turnaround, Nance leads the league in steals and ranks sixth in defensive winning shares.
“There is no one who is more the kind of person we want in this organization than Larry,” Cavs head coach JB Bickerstaff said. “He continues to be the engine that helps this thing keep spinning at both ends of the ball.”
Crowder did not do well in Cleveland. He was returned in a three-team contract with the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings. The Cavs received George Hill and Rodney Hood.
About a year later, with Cleveland shifting his priorities, Hill was sent to the Milwaukee Bucks for John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova and a future first-round pick. Without Crowder and his valuable contract – a secondary reason the Cavs targeted him in the Irving deal – they don’t get Hill. Without Hill, the Cavs don’t have Andre Drummond and Jarrett Allen.
Last February, the Cavs used Henson’s expiring contract with Brandon Knight to get Drummond, which allowed the Detroit Pistons to cut their pay to revamp the roster. Going back to last season, the Cavs are 11-11 with Drummond in the lineup, much more competitive than when he arrived.
Drummond can get out of hand from time to time. Bickerstaff took a different direction to close Wednesday’s game. But Drummond bounced back on Friday, registering another double-double with 19 points and 16 boards. The All-Star double was a force at both ends, intimidating opponents around the rim and anchoring the team’s defense as he had promised.
“The potential of this team is endless,” said Drummond. “We have all the tools to be a great team. There is no reason we can’t beat the best teams in the NBA. We have the heart, we have the motivation.
“When I got here my message to these guys was, we should never be afraid of anyone, we don’t care who is on the pitch. It could be Kevin Durant and LeBron James. It does not matter. We’re going to play them the same way every night, we’re going to stick to our plan and what works for us. We don’t want cute games. You want to make it as ugly as possible and for the best team to win. Night after night, it ends up being us.
That first round of the Bucks was the linchpin of Allen’s robbery last week. The Nets did not want to part ways with the booming center. Instead, they bought sniper Landry Shamet, hoping he could grab the final first-round pick the Nets needed to land Harden. When those attempts failed, they contacted the Cavs who were excited to be involved in the case.
Cleveland also got Taurean Prince, who appears to be more than a throw-in piece. While the Cavs have to pay Allen, a restricted free agent this summer, they believe he’s the long-term answer in the middle – a 22-year-old pick-and-roll blocker partner for Sexton and Garland.
Back to Clarkson for a minute. He was sent to Utah last December for Dante Exum and two second-round picks. The Cavs also got a trade exception. Not only did Clarkson’s departure coincide with Sexton’s rise, but it also brought in Exum, which was used in the blockbuster Harden – the salary needed to match Prince. The trade exception allowed the Cavs to absorb Allen’s contract.
Hood was cast in Portland almost two years ago in a package that included Nik Stauskas, Wade Baldwin and two future second-round picks.
Trading is a long and complex game of chess. It is not just a movement, but rather a series of them that require short and long term thinking.
Cleveland’s rebuilding plan – kicked off by commercial demand from Irving – has started to focus. Because of this move, and a series of others that have come from it, the Cavs now have Sexton, Nance, Drummond, Allen, Prince and more interim capital to potentially use in future trades.
Irving, meanwhile, spent two frustrating years in Boston and struggled with bad conditions. He is now in Brooklyn, hoping the addition of Harden will put the Nets on top of the league. Irving’s greatness cannot be argued. The Cavs honored him in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game, as Irving waved to the crowd and pointed his ring finger – an acknowledgment of the role this organization played in making him a champion.
The hatred subsided. The Cavs have evolved. They are well placed, one of the surprise teams in the NBA from month one, with a bright future and an exciting young core. There is still hope. This would not have been possible without the Irving business over three years ago.
Unbalanced indeed. In favor of Cleveland.
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