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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Criticism misses the point

Special to the Union Leader

August 23. 2017 9:41PM
Kyrie Irving drives against Isaiah Thomas during the first half of Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden in May. The players switched teams after Tuesday's blockbuster trade. (USA TODAY Sports)

Am I missing something here?

Some of the initial reviews of the Celtics’ blockbuster trade have not been great. Check out the following headline:

Sports Illustrated: “Celtics’ Trade for Kyrie Irving Couldn’t be More Underwhelming”

The Sporting News: “Celtics Snag Top Player in Kyrie Irving But Did They Win Deal With Cavs?”

Wait a second.

This is Kyrie Irving we’re talking about. This is a top-flight talent who is under some contractual control; He can’t opt out for two more years and you get the feeling he would stay.

Wrote Tom Ziller of SB Nation: “Irving is a better asset than Thomas. He’s three years younger, half a foot taller, under contract for longer, and didn’t finish the season with a torn hip labrum.

“Thomas has been a genuine miracle in his seven NBA seasons, proving everyone who gave up on him wrong. He’s improved every single season.

“But because of the nature of his body, he will still be doubted. Plenty of smart folks still openly wonder whether he’ll be worth a maximum contract as a free agent next summer. Why? Because his size and age — he’s currently 28 — spark fear of a sharp, sudden decline in his early 30s.”

OK, back to Irving.

“We’ve been watching Kyrie Irving now for six NBA seasons, yet there is still so much we do not know about him,” wrote our buddy Sean Deveney in The Sporting News. “He is a scorer, no doubt, and a top-shelf one at that — he has four All-Star selections to his credit and averaged a career-high 25.2 points last year, shooting 40.1 percent from the 3-point line and 90.5 percent on free throws. On the flip side, his feeble defense is well-known and waters down his offensive impact.”

Oh, I didn’t realize dealing Isaiah Thomas meant the Celtics were trading away an All-Star defender.

“There’s a lot more pros than cons there, especially for a guy who is only 25 years old,” wrote Deveney. “The rule of thumb in any trade is the team getting the best player involved usually wins. But if you’re the Celtics and you’re betting the house on Irving entering next season, there are still some critical holes in his resume that have to make you wonder what you’re getting yourself into with Irving.”

Writing in SI, Rohan Nadkarni claimed Danny Ainge held onto that draft pick when he could have used it for Jimmy Butler or Paul George, “and both are better players than Irving,” in Nadkarni’s words.

First of all, we don’t think Butler is a better player. Second, George might be but there was the general feeling he will bolt after one season, so you’d be trading the future for one year.

“What’s frustrating is that guys like Butler and George were extremely attainable,” wrote Nadkarni. “An inclusion of the Nets’ pick would have blown away the offers Minnesota and Oklahoma City put together in their trades for the stars. If the Celts were also willing to part with Thomas this whole time, he could have been included in those packages as well, or perhaps even sent to a third team in a potential Butler/George trade.”

The feeling here is the Celtics made a decision they weren’t going to give max money to Thomas because he’s just not that type of player. Jae Crowder seemed to be on the way out regardless. The draft pick? This can look very bad if the Cavs get the top player in next year’s draft, especially if that Lakers 2-through-5 contingency falls through.

So, if they decided they wouldn’t give Thomas, still recovering from that injury, the money, moving him now is a PR win. They didn’t let him walk and traded him for one of the better players in the league, something for the fan base to get excited about.

Ainge described Tuesday as “a roller coaster of a day for us,” adding it was “a very, very difficult day and at the same time a very exciting time (trading) for one of the best offensive players in the league”

Celtics fans loved Isaiah, cheered for him wildly through his crazy 2016-17 season that ended with the horrible drama of his sister passing away and then his injury. They loved their little guy but, seriously, wasn’t there a limit to how far this team could go with Thomas? In the back of the mind of most of those fans, wasn’t there a feeling that this would always end where it was last year?

Did you want Thomas to back up his “Brinks truck” for a max deal in Boston?

Ainge wanted to deal for Irving. The Cavs wanted Jayson Tatum and Ainge held out, eventually making the trade and keeping Tatum in Boston. Would he have been better off making it the Lakers pick instead of the Nets’? Maybe. But maybe the Nets pick was the only thing that could get it done.

And you get the feeling Trader Danny, who has only four players back from last year’s team, isn’t finished. He still has a roster spot open and can add another veteran, preferably a shooter who can grab a rebound.

Finally, our pal Jeff Goodman of ESPN tweeted: “Gordon Hayward is 27, Kyrie 25, Jayson Tatum 19 and Jaylen Brown is 20. And have potential top 5 pick next season if Lakers get 2-5.”

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