Cavaliers GM Koby Altman makes a strong move in trading Kyrie Irving
Cleveland gets an All-Star in return for an All-Star plus a potentially high first-round draft pick to build around
Koby Altman must have finally been able to get a good night’s sleep on Tuesday. And it was a well-deserved slumber for the new Cleveland Cavaliers general manager.
After David Griffin left and Chauncey Billups said no, Altman went from fourth man in the Cavaliers’ front office to general manager after being hired in July. Altman’s first challenge was daunting: trading four-time NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving, who asked to be dealt to become a top dog of a top team and to part ways with superstar LeBron James. James, often regarded as the world’s best basketball player, can walk away as a free agent next summer.
Hey, Koby, you very well could lose the biggest star in the NBA since Kobe Bryant. And his fellow All-Star wants out first, and everyone knows about it. Good luck, kid.
But Altman quietly pulled together the best trade by a general manager under duress in recent memory. Better than what the former teams recently received for NBA stars Paul George, Chris Paul and DeMarcus Cousins. And yes, even better than what then-Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri pulled off when he dealt All-Star Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks for Danilo Gallinari and several other talented players. Yes, Altman’s deal was better than the Deron Williams to New Jersey Nets and Kevin Love to Cleveland deals too.
Max Kellerman explains that Kyrie Irving is better equipped than Isaiah Thomas to lead the Celtics, but Stephen A. Smith says LeBron James’ presence proves him wrong.
Altman traded Irving to the Eastern Conference rival and fellow title-contending Boston Celtics for fellow All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round pick. Typically you don’t get an All-Star in return when an All-Star wants out. Altman, however, did just that in acquiring Thomas, who averaged 24.7 points in parts of three seasons with Boston. While much shorter, the 5-foot-9 explosive scorer can replace what Irving gave Cleveland from the standpoints of elite scoring, clutch shot-making and excitement. Thomas will be a great complement to James, just like Irving was.
Crowder is one of the NBA’s grittiest and toughest big defenders, who likely is seen as a possible NBA Finals irritant for Golden State Warriors All-Star forward Kevin Durant. Keep in mind that Altman signed veteran point guard Derrick Rose as a free agent too. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver was re-signed, as was veteran guard Jose Calderon, to aid Cleveland’s respectable depth. Don’t forget that four-time All-Star forward Love and center Tristan Thompson are returning to Cleveland.
But the cherry on top of this stunning blockbuster move was the first-round pick that Altman acquired from Boston. It is an unprotected pick via the terrible Brooklyn Nets in the 2018 NBA draft, which is filled with rare size and could challenge this year’s outstanding draft in talent. The Nets had the worst record in the East last season, and by the looks of their lackluster roster, now led by newcomer guard D’Angelo Russell, another bad record is on the horizon. The Cavaliers have a great chance of adding one of the following prep phenoms to their roster in 2018: Michael Porter Jr., Marvin Bagley, Mohamed Bamba, DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson, Collin Sexton or Wendell Carter Jr. Check out their mixtapes online if you’re not familiar. You won’t be disappointed.
If it’s Porter or Bagley, Cleveland has a young star to build around for the future if James and Thomas, who also will be a free agent next summer, depart. But if it’s Porter or Bagley, James and Thomas could very well be more inclined to stick around. Time will tell, but Boston may end up regretting trading that first-round pick to Cleveland. That being said, Celtics president Danny Ainge will care less if an 18th NBA championship banner is hung or a first Finals appearance since 2010 occurs. Such isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Irving, Gordon Hayward and the Celtics. Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards are wondering whether they have enough now to somehow shake up the East.
Altman was extremely focused on the future in making this trade, a source said. This trade may give James much more faith in Altman as a general manager. It would be hard to believe that Altman could have landed a better trade than the Boston one. He did call the uninterested Warriors about Klay Thompson, a source said.
Trying to persuade James to stay home won’t be easy. Altman is also handcuffed by the mammoth payroll that won’t budge enough for a marquee free agent, even if Thomas bolts. Even so, with James, Thomas and Love, the deep Cavaliers still have a roster capable of advancing to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals and possibly winning. It will be tougher with Irving joining forces with All-Star forward Hayward, forwards Al Horford and budding star Jaylen Brown, and heralded rookie Jayson Tatum. But Boston will desperately need to be one of the NBA’s best-scoring teams after losing some defensive standouts in Crowder, center Amir Johnson and, more notably, Avery Bradley.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Altman hasn’t been in the public eye much in Cleveland since becoming general manager. But if Cavaliers fans see him on East Fourth Street in downtown Cleveland finally relaxing, Altman is certainly deserving of a tip of the cap and a complimentary beverage of some sort after making the best of an NBA nightmare during his first month on the job.