As opening statements in a job go, Koby Altman’s was the equivalent of Bart Simpson smashing all of Springfield’s windows by shouting down a combined 20 megaphones.
On Tuesday, Altman orchestrated one of the more remarkable trades in modern NBA history, moving an All-Star, all-world talent in Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics.
In his first major assignment since replacing David Griffin as Cavaliers General Manager, Altman knew he could accept nothing less than a king’s ransom for Irving, who informed the Cavaliers of his desire to leave northeast Ohio in July as he sought success away from the shadow of LeBron James.
He got it, too. In return for Irving, the Cavaliers received one of the NBA’s elite scoring point guards in Isaiah Thomas, small forward Jae Crowder, seven-foot prospect and 2016 first-rounder Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick.
It’s a move of extraordinary chutzpah from Altman and the Cavaliers’ front office, who could have moved Irving west to the Phoenix Suns, say, and not seen much of him again for most of the season. If Irving produces a clutch performance in an Eastern Conference series against the Cavaliers, well, Altman is not going to be very popular.
But the Cavaliers decided that the only appropriate value for Irving lay in the East. Crowder can help them out immediately, Zizic is intriguing and the Nets are almost certainly going to nosedive again so the draft pick is going to be a high one. As Stephen A Smith said on SportsCenter on Tuesday evening, if the Cavaliers lose LeBron James to free agency next summer then the pieces should already be in place to start the rebuild. Thomas, too, becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.
“You’ve got to love what Cleveland did for itself,” Smith said. “Because remember, in the event that LeBron leaves then you can elect not to pay Isaiah. So you’re getting Isaiah’s numbers off the books, you’re getting LeBron James’ numbers off the books, you’ve still got an anticipated high first-round pick to rebuild and retool. All of those things can potentially work in your favor.”
The Celtics just entered win-right-now mode. The Cavaliers are there already but gave themselves wriggle room for regeneration if the Thomas experiment goes wrong. Altman’s first move was brassy but inspired.
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