Trades like this week’s stunner, Cleveland and Boston swapping All-Star point guards, rarely happen.
In one sense, it’s unprecedented: We’ve never seen the first player selected in a draft (Kyrie Irving, 2011) traded for the last player selected in the same draft (Isaiah Thomas). We also seldom see the top two contenders in a conference strike a deal that arguably makes their rival stronger.
It must be nice to live in an NBA market where GMs can pull off a swing-for-the-fences move that includes a pair of stars, another starter, a prospect and a first-round pick. Yes, it’s OK to be jealous when your team’s biggest waves come from re-signing players and adding injury-prone question marks from the discount bin.
Anyway, the big question isn’t whether Boston can repeat as the East’s No. 1 seed or Cleveland can repeat as conference champ. The more pressing concern is: “What’s all this mean for the Wizards.”
The early money is on “not much.” The Celtics and Cavaliers were favored to be atop the East before the trade and they remain in that position as Irving switches places with Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and an unprotected 2018 Nets first-round pick.
Washington’s bench isn’t magically stronger. LeBron James’ game isn’t rapidly aging. Celtics coach Brad Stevens’ IQ isn’t steadily decreasing. The Wizards figured to slot comfortably as the third seed and that’s still the best bet.
However, there is reason for hope in D.C. The arena has a new name but the home team at Capital One Center otherwise has continuity on its side. The core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat is entering its third season together. Take away Morris and the rest are headed to Year 5 as Wizards.
You want to dream? The Celtics return only four players and are counting on major contributions from rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year forward Jaylen Brown. The Cavs went from one of the worst defensive point guards to arguably rock bottom. Boston will be less effective guarding Wall and Beal without Crowder and Avery Bradley. Cleveland still is less-than-fearsome when James takes a seat.
Maybe Washington leaps a step forward while last season’s top seeds struggle to mesh with their new configurations. Maybe James slows down, Thomas’ hip fails to heal and Irving fails to fit into Stevens’ scheme.
Maybe Kevin Durant will opt out after another championship and finally come home.
Almost anything is possible. But for now, it’s steady-as-she-goes for the Wizards.
The earth shook and the wind roared with the Irving-Thomas trade. And Washington finds itself pretty much in the same position – looking up.