The trades that sent the Cavs’ Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics and the Pacers’ Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder were two of the biggest moves of the 2017 NBA offseason. Although the trades were unrelated, Irving and George were nearly dealt for each other multiple times. If that deal had gone through, the fates of not only the four teams involved in these two trades would be changed, but also many more.
The 2017-2018 playoffs would look very different if Irving was traded to the Indiana Pacers for George; let’s take a look.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs were disappointing for much of the regular season, but after edging out the Pacers in seven games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Cleveland has played much better against the Toronto Raptors on their way to a 3-0 series lead. This improvement is no thanks to the Irving trade, as Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, two of the players received in the deal, were shipped off at the trade deadline.
Ante Zizic, the third player acquired for Irving, has barely seen any playing time this postseason. The Cavs still have the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 draft pick, and Thomas and Crowder were necessary in trading for George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood, but it’s fair to say that the Cavs probably didn’t get a great return for the All-Star point guard.
If the Cavs had swapped Irving for George, they would have the secondary elite isolation scorer they currently lack. LeBron James has dominated in the playoffs so far, but he hasn’t gotten much help outside of Kevin Love, Cleveland’s de facto second option.
George’s defense and scoring ability would be a huge upgrade over what Hill, Clarkson, Nance, and Hood can give them now. If Derrick Rose played at the same level for the Cavs as he did in the first round of the playoffs with Minnesota, Cleveland would be set at point guard.
The future would look bleaker, but if Paul George was the return for Irving instead of the Celtics’ package, the Cavs would have a much better chance at winning the championship this season.
6. Boston Celtics
Irving made a large impact on the Celtics in his 60 games with the team, but is not able to contribute in the playoffs after undergoing surgery on his knee late in the regular season. If Boston doesn’t trade for Irving, they still have an injured point guard in Isaiah Thomas.
This would leave Marcus Smart or Terry Rozier as the starter until January, when Thomas returns and plays terribly, just like he did in Cleveland.
Gordon Hayward would lead the team in scoring, assuming he doesn’t suffer a season-ending injury in the first game. If he did go down, the Celtics could have trouble making the playoffs, as they wouldn’t have a go-to scorer; just a compilation of young, talented players.
A first-round exit is likely, but the Celtics would have Brooklyn’s first-round pick this year, and they would have the option of adding yet another young stud to their nucleus or flipping the selection for an established player.
5. Indiana Pacers
When George was traded to the Thunder for essentially Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, no one believed Indiana had won the trade. Months later, both franchises lost in the first round of the playoffs, but Oladipo and Sabonis have now made the discussion over who won the deal a lot more interesting.
Oladipo averaged 23.1 points and Sabonis scored 11.6 points per game. The duo combined with Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young to give the Cleveland Cavaliers an extremely difficult first-round series, although they ultimately came up short.
If Irving had been a Pacer rather than Oladipo and Sabonis, the trade would have been hailed as much more fair. Assuming Irving plays the entire season, Indiana is a likely playoff team, although they would probably lose in the first round anyway. But, if Irving had undergone surgery like he did in Boston, that playoff berth would be much more difficult to secure for a team without an established star.
The end result for 2017-2018 would have been the same, but the Pacers are much better off with Oladipo and Sabonis than they would have been with Irving moving forward.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder may be the most talented team in NBA history to lose in the first round of the playoffs. Their lineup boasted 2016-2107 MVP Russell Westbrook( who averaged a triple-double in two consecutive seasons), 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams, and George. But the team just did not mesh, and if they didn’t acquire George, the same thing would have happened.
Victor Oladipo didn’t improve drastically until he was out of Westbrook’s shadow. His playing time from last season to this year remained almost identical, yet he attempted four more field goals and two more free throws, amounting to seven more points per game.
Westbrook is a ball-dominant player who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. Oladipo is the same way. Perhaps Oladipo could have been the leader of the Thunder’s bench unit, but there’s no guarantee that he would have been nearly as effective.
Sabonis was a nice rotational player for the Thunder in his rookie season and his scoring ability off the bench was sorely missed by the team in 2017-2018. Sabonis would have improved in Oklahoma City as he did in Indiana, and the Thunder would have been grateful.
Oklahoma City may not have thought it necessary to trade for Anthony if they didn’t already have George. General manager Sam Presti may wish this was the case, as Anthony was a massive disappointment, especially in the playoffs, and has a player option on his contract for next season that will pay him nearly $28 million. Center Enes Kanter would still be a member of the team and would improve a thin bench while combining with Adams to form a solid big man duo.
The Thunder would be in a better position if they hadn’t traded for George, if only because they likely wouldn’t be stuck with Carmelo Anthony.
3. Utah Jazz
At the trade deadline, the Jazz essentially swapped Rodney Hood, who they were not going to re-sign next season, for Jae Crowder, who is under contract through the 2019-2020 campaign. Crowder was a disappointment in Cleveland, and while he wasn’t better than Hood in Utah, his contract made him more valuable to the team, and he has still been an important part of their playoff run.
The Jazz probably could have found another trade partner for Hood, but Crowder was a good fit for them and would not have been available if Boston hadn’t sent him to Cleveland in the first place.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
In preparation for a big run in free agency, the Lakers wanted to shed salary at the trade deadline, and they did so by sending Clarkson and Nance to Cleveland in exchange for two expiring deals in Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye. Thomas was placed on injured reserve after a few underwhelming performances and Frye didn’t play much, so LA’s fate this year didn’t change as a result of the trade, but perhaps it opened up more possibilities this summer.
1. New York Knicks
Despite not making the playoffs, the Knicks are one of teams most affected by the failed Irving-George trade. New York traded Anthony to Oklahoma City in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a second-round pick. McDermott is no longer with the team, but Kanter put together a solid season, averaging 14.1 points and 11 rebounds per game.
But perhaps even more valuable than Kanter is no longer having Anthony on the payroll. His ball-dominant playing style prevented younger players from developing, and his gigantic contract, which included a no-trade clause, tied the Knicks’ hands for the future. Anthony also single-handedly won the Knicks multiple games, which, while perhaps not the most competitive-spirited thought, was not good for the team’s future in terms of receiving a high lottery pick.
Carmelo Anthony was not good for the Knicks’ future and the organization greatly benefited by trading him. Perhaps they would have found a different deal if OKC hadn’t made an offer, but things worked out pretty well for New York.
Trades involving big names always change the NBA landscape, but the Irving and George deals had impacts on multiple teams for not only this season, but for the next few years as well. Had Irving and George been swapped, both this season and many beyond it would have been significantly altered throughout the association.