Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket and is fouled by Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13) in the first half at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on May 12, 2017 in game six of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals. File photo by Mark Goldman/UPI | License Photo
As the dust begins to settle from Tuesday's blockbuster trade that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round pick to Cleveland, the larger picture for both teams starts to come into focus.
The breakup of the partnership of Irving and LeBron James seemed inevitable after the former said he wanted to be traded. James offered nothing but respect to Irving in his Twitter message in response to the trade:
"That's the only way to be to the kid! Special talent/guy! Nothing but respect and what a ride it was our 3 years together."
James will now try to blend his skills with Thomas, a point guard who likes to have the ball in his hands.
The question surrounding Thomas concerns his hip. Thomas' season ended following Game 2 of the conference finals because of a torn labrum and aggravation of a previous injury.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Celtics general manager Danny Ainge speculated on a conference call on Tuesday that Thomas might not be ready for the start of the regular season.
The Cavaliers have Derrick Rose to be the point guard if Thomas is unable to play, but what will Rose's role be when Thomas returns?
The bigger questions rest with the Celtics.
Perhaps the most significant factor of the entire ordeal is that Boston now has just four players left from a team that surpassed expectations to finish first in the Eastern Conference.
Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier return from the squad that lost to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals, and coach Brad Stevens will try to integrate Irving, Gordon Hayward and rookie Jayson Tatum with them.
Tatum, the No. 3 pick in this year's draft, is no small player in the transaction.
According to multiple reports, the Irving-Thomas deal was able to go forward only when the Cavaliers gave up their attempt to have Tatum included in the deal.
Tatum seemed pleased he was staying in Boston.
"I was watching (the trade news) on TV and I saw breaking news come across, so it was just as much of a shock to me as all the other fans," Tatum said, according to ESPN.com. "I was just as surprised as everyone else (about the trade). I saw my name come up, and I didn't know if I was going to get traded. ... It's all new to me. I haven't played an NBA game yet; I just came from college. I don't know how to handle all the trade talks. I was just like, 'Wow,' saw my name come up."
After he was told that he would not be moved, Tatum said he received a text from Irving saying how excited he was to be teaming up with him. A few weeks ago, Tatum and Irving, who have the same agent, went to the Bahamas for a vacation.
"I'm pretty sure it will be a lot of fun," Tatum said of playing with Irving. "He's a tremendous player. A superstar in this league."
Before trading Irving to Boston, the Cavaliers offered Irving to the Golden State Warriors for guard Klay Thompson, according to multiple reports.
The Warriors turned them down. But the Celtics didn't, and the Cavaliers' acquisition of Crowder, a solid wing player, may turn out to be important as well. That does not even consider the draft pick Cleveland obtained, which could turn out to be the No. 1 overall choice.
Making this trade may give James some faith in new Cleveland general manager Koby Altman.
Everything the Cavaliers do this season will be viewed in terms of how it might affect James' decision to stay or leave via free agency next summer.
"It's great if they win, terrible if they lose," a source close to James, referring to the Irving trade, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
If the Cavaliers reach the finals again and are competitive once they get there, James may consider staying.