For the first time since he was traded by the Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas addressed the concerns over his right hip that have led the Cleveland Cavaliers to delay finalizing the deal, and the All-Star point guard remained adamant that the injury has continued to heal and is not career-threatening.
In an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Tuesday, Thomas insisted he is not “damaged” goods and repeatedly said no doctor has expressed long-term concerns about the right hip he initially injured in March and re-aggravated during the playoffs, costing him the final four games of his season.
“I am not damaged,” said Thomas. “I’ll be back, and I’ll be the same player.”
“There’s never been an indication that I wouldn’t be back, and there’s never been an indication that this is something messing up my career,” he added. “Maybe I am not going to be back as soon this season as everyone wants me to be, but I’m going to be back, and I’m going to be the same player again. No doctor has told me anything different than that.”
What Thomas did not mention is how close he is to a potential return. In fact, he left room for the Cavaliers’ concern in relaying New York-based hip specialist Dr. Bryan Kelly’s diagnosis to ESPN:
“He told me, ‘I have seen hips worse than yours with guys who played at a high level and had great careers.’ At the moment, yes, I am injured, but I have made progress from May.”
And there’s the rub — quite literally, considering the labrum ultimately tore on the hip impingement.
Regardless of the diagnosis, Thomas has every reason to reassure the NBA that his hip will not be a longterm concern, considering he will be a free agent next July and has spent the past two summers insisting any team interested in his services “better bring out the Brink’s truck.” The 28-year-old is currently operating on one of the league’s best bargain deals at a salary of $6.26 million in 2017-18.
We should also point out that there’s no reason to believe Thomas is being disingenuous about his health status. Nothing Thomas told ESPN varied from what the Celtics have been saying all along. Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told The Boston Globe late last month that Thomas continued to progress from the injury, and then told CSNNE.com on the eve of trading for Kyrie Irving that Thomas was slated to undergo further examination before training camp.
None of this can be all that reassuring for the Cavaliers, who need a healthy Thomas to remain heavy favorites in the East. With no assurance he will re-sign in Cleveland, the Cavs are more interested in the short-term status of Thomas’ hip than the long-term diagnosis, as cold as that may sound, because LeBron James’ own decision to stay in Cleveland could hinge on the team’s success in 2017-18.
Boston’s Dr. Brian McKeon was in direct contact with the Cavs leading up to the trade, per the Boston Herald, and the Celtics were required to disclose all relevant health information on their trade call last Tuesday with the Cavaliers and the NBA front office. However, Cleveland’s doctors could very well have reached a different conclusion than the Celtics after examining Thomas and his medical records.
Lost in this public drama between the Cavs and Celtics is the fact that Thomas’ future earning power could be severely damaged by the haggling over the physical, and Boston almost certainly could not trade him elsewhere should this deal be voided. While Cleveland has his own set of priorities in the deal, Thomas’ decision to go to the media on Tuesday may have been a reflection of some frustration.
The Cavaliers have until 10 a.m. ET on Thursday to sign off on Thomas’ physical or make arrangements to extend their bargaining window with the Celtics.
Previous reports suggested the Cavs would seek a first-round pick or one Boston’s two most recent lottery picks — Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown — as a sweetener to complete the deal for Irving that already included Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and an unprotected 2018 first-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets. However, Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that Cleveland now may be seeking a late first or second-round picks as further compensation. The two teams reopened dialogue on Tuesday.
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