Koby Altman pulls off blockbuster trade, earns early respect in Cleveland

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Updated: August 23, 2017
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The city of Cleveland should shower rookie general manager Koby Altman with love, and provide him with the finest wine and juiciest steak.

Hell, roll out the red carpet for him.

In less than one month on the job, Altman got the best of Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge, who’s one of the more accomplished negotiators in the NBA.

*Cough cough. Indiana Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard could learn a few things here.

After David Griffin failed to reach a contract extension and Chauncey Billups withdrew his name from consideration for the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ general manager job, the 34-year-old Altman faced a daunting task of finding equitable compensation for a disgruntled Kyrie Irving, who requested to be dealt and escape the shadow of LeBron James — the best player in the world who can bolt next summer in free agency.

The challenge for Altman was hardcore: Fetch a deal of impactful players that would keep Cleveland’s championship aspirations alive, while hunting for young assets if faced with a possible rebuild.

Besides the overall market looking unattractive, Irving tried to force his hand, naming the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves as preferred destinations. But none of those teams had the assets Cleveland lunged for, nor did the Cavs hold the desire to receive expiring contracts or continue trade talks into mid-December — when players who were signed this offseason can officially be traded. So Altman shifted his focus to Ainge and the Celtics, who were heavily fond of Irving.

It ended up being one of the biggest offseason heists this summer, taking a page out of Sam Presti’s book.

After receiving an offensive machine and 2016-17 MVP candidate in Isaiah Thomas, a defensive-minded Jae Crowder and two interesting pieces in Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected first-rounder in 2018, you could make a case that Altman won the offseason. This package is better than the LA Clippers‘ acquisitions for Chris Paul, and Chicago and Indiana’s embarrassing price for Jimmy Butler and Paul George. You could challenge this against Sacramento’s haul for DeMarcus Cousins as well.

In Thomas, Cleveland gets a replacement for Irving who’s still in his prime. The 5-foot-9 guard is coming off a career season, where he shot 46 percent from the field and 38 percent from long distance. The Cavs are getting a player who proved to score more often and efficiently last season, without a dominant player like James by his side. Thomas averaged 28.9 points per game with a 0.625 shooting percentage, while Irving averaged 25.2 points on a 0.58 shooting percentage, per teamrankings.com.

Without Thomas in the game, the Celtics’ offense was horrendous. They carried a 113.6 offensive rating with him on the floor. When he sat out, Boston slipped to a 99.0 rating, which ranked dead last. His ability to play off the ball will serve well for Cleveland. Last season, on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, Thomas shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc, and that number will certainly grow after receiving passes from James.

Crowder gives Cleveland a solid wing defender that can play multiple positions and knock down open shots. The Celtics were 11.5 points per 100 possessions better with Crowder on the court last season, serving as a clear impact on both ends of the floor. He stands as a sure upgrade over Jeff Green, Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson, who’s 37 years old and entering his 17th season. The addition of Crowder gives Cleveland a feeling of toughness that’s been missing. He also gives Cavs coach Ty Lue another 3-and-D forward to throw at Golden State, alongside James and Cedi Osman, who is expected to transition to the league after his solid play overseas.

Zizic didn’t impress during summer league, but he’ll provide depth or serve as a potential trade piece in the future. He’ll bring them another big who can bang down low, block shots and grab some rebounds. But getting Ainge to finally give up one of his precious picks from the Nets put the icing on the cake.

Now Cleveland can remain in win-now mode, fighting to get James his fourth title, while planning for the future to possibly select Marvin Bagley III or Michael Porter Jr. if they acquire the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. And while the Nets appear on the rise, trading for D’Angelo Russell and DeMarre Carroll during the offseason, ESPN isn’t sold to move them up from being one of the worst teams in the NBA.

Plus, even if none of the prospects intrigue the Cavs, they could simply swap the pick for an established player.

The Irving trade also cut money off of Cleveland’s books:

The downside of the deal is realizing the Cavs acquired the worst defensive guard in the NBA to mesh with an already horrific defense. They’ll also have a decision on whether to pay Thomas after the 2017-18 season — and he’s expecting nothing short of a max contract.

Yet, the positive outweighs the negative. Cleveland could wind up bidding against itself. And if James decides to leave next summer, the Cavs can elect to let Thomas walk, trade Kevin Love for younger assets and start to rebuild, with the acquired pick from Brooklyn.

It’s the definition of a win-win situation, and the rookie general manager deserves all the credit.

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