The Cavaliers’ chokehold on the Eastern conference title is slowly slipping out of their grasp. With the drama surrounding point guard Kyrie Irving’s alleged trade request, Cavs general manager Koby Altman quickly dished the player in a blockbuster trade. The Cavs relinquished their leash on one of the best point guards in the league for Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and two draft picks.  In a season with tectonic changes in the National Basketball Association, this deal may go down as the most seismic of all. 

Irving, who won one championship alongside guard LeBron James and made it to three consecutive Finals appearances, allegedly requested a trade from the Cavaliers. The rumored reason involved Irving’s publicized displeasure with his second-class status in comparison to James’ superstar status and a desire to become the lone leader of a franchise. With the clock ticking on the offseason and the ensuing drama shaking up the Cavaliers’ locker room, the general manager agreed to a shocking trade with their Eastern Conference rivals. 

The Celtics, who lost to the Cavs in five quick games in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, add an offensive star to a championship caliber team, headlined by newly acquired forward Gordon Hayward. Hayward signed a four-year, $128 million deal to leave the Utah Jazz and join Boston. Hayward reached his first All-Star game in 2016, posting a career-high 22 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. The one-two duo will be bolstered by veteran center Al Horford and a budding star in guard Jayson Tatum. Tatum took the summer league by storm, pouring in 18.7 points per game and nearly 10 rebounds per contest. 

The Cavs sacrificed their point guard position, downgrading from Irving to Thomas, while adding a much-needed defensive presence in Crowder. While Thomas recorded 28.9 points per contest, Irving averaged 25.3 per game on better shooting from the field and markedly better shooting from beyond the arc. Irving, though not known for his defense, has the physical advantage when matching up with players on the defensive side, as well as under the basket. Irving posted 3.2 rebounds per game, while Thomas averaged half a board less per game. 

Most noticeably though, Thomas is coming off a hip injury, which sidelined him during the final games of the postseason matchup with the Cavs. Altman leveraged Thomas’ injury to pry a second-round pick from the Celts. The move was a steal for the Cavs, but only time will tell if it was worth the damaged goods. 

The team also added a 2018 first-round pick, a contentious move by the Celtics upper management, to pad their future prospects should James leave. 

While the Celtics held the best conference record, posting two more wins than the Cavaliers, the Cavs easily bested the Celtics in the playoffs. With the addition of Irving, the Celtics are looking to upend the Cavaliers three-year stronghold and make it their first finals appearance since the 2010 season. While the Irving-Thomas trade may have changed the tides, LeBron is still the king of the East, coming off one of his best seasons of his storied career. And anyways, the Golden State Warriors proved last year that winning the East is a meaningless accolade, making the Celtics’ efforts a futile endeavor indeed.  Despite the big changes, the Celtics still do not seem equipped to top the overpowering Warriors squad over the course of a full playoff series.