The short answer: As expected, the condition of Isaiah Thomas’ right hip is holding up the deal. The Cleveland Cavaliers examined Thomas’ “re-aggravation of a femoral-acetabular impingement with labral tear” (say that five times fast) on Friday and spent the weekend mulling further assets from the Boston Celtics as compensation for concerns over the physical, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The long answer involves a whole lot of juicy speculation that the Cavaliers are playing games with their Eastern Conference rivals before the season even begins. So, let’s get to the good stuff, shall we.
The Celtics have been transparent about Thomas’ injury. After Boston announced the injury during its conference finals showdown with Cleveland, Thomas told reporters at his exit interview immediately following the series that his right hip has always been “a little different my whole life.”
Throughout the summer, the Celtics brass kept the public abreast of Thomas’ status. Initially, Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge warned that a determination on surgery would have to wait until swelling subsided. At the end of June, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that decision was still “a couple of weeks” away. By early July, Stevens felt more confident surgery would be unlikely, and by the end of the month Ainge told The Boston Globe that Thomas would not require surgery.
Still, on the eve of the agreement that would send Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for Irving, Ainge told CSN New England’s A. Sherrod Blakely that, while the team hoped Thomas would be ready at the start of the season, the two-time All-Star was still slated to undergo additional testing on the hip prior to training camp.
“It’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab,” Stevens added during an appearance on a podcast with The Vertical’s Chris Mannix. “There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe. …
“We want what’s best for Isaiah. We want to make sure that when he is ready to roll, which hopefully is sooner rather than later, that he is ready to roll at his highest level and for the longest possible time, obviously, right? So that’s a lot more important to me than anything else.”
Additionally, the Celtics were required to disclose “any relevant health information” on this past Tuesday’s trade call with the Cavaliers and the league office. Any misrepresentation of Thomas’ status could result in the league nixing the deal, forfeiture of draft picks, fines up to $1 million and/or a suspension of Boston’s front-office executives, according to Larry Coon’s NBA salary cap FAQ.
So, it stands to reason Boston both disclosed Thomas’ current status and considered that when making its offer to Cleveland. By most accounts, the Cavs did better than anticipated in an Irving deal, considering their own All-Star point guard was reportedly threatening to sit out training camp, and one season of Thomas, however healthy he was during a contract year, was merely a sweetener in a deal that included a potential No. 1 overall pick, Crowder’s cap-friendly deal and a promising 7-footer.
The lack of protection on Brooklyn’s pick makes that piece the most important of the trade — a potential franchise cornerstone in a loaded draft and significantly more attractive than any of Cleveland’s other reported options. So valuable are unprotected lottery picks that you assume the Celtics did not place any protection on the Nets pick because of the concerns about Thomas’ hip.
All of which The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd reported: “One source indicated Saturday the Celtics’ final offer … was their best offer. There will be no more negotiating.” Then, the juices really started flowing.
According to Wojnarowski, “Cleveland is going to try to inquire about a couple of the Celtics’ young players — Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, who they tried to get in the original trade. That is very unlikely, but Boston still has a war chest of future first-round picks of their own and some picks they control from other teams, and Cleveland is going to try to get one more of those to finalize this deal.”
“Unlikely” is an understatement. Boston believes Brown and Tatum, both selected third overall with Brooklyn’s top pick in the last two drafts, have star potential, so to throw in one of them on top of an already stacked package would be a laughable ask from new Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman.
And from the sound of it, maybe Cleveland’s front office is beginning to realize that:
Per a source, as of yesterday afternoon the Cavs had made no request to Boston for more on Kyrie-IT trade
— Joe Vardon (@joevardon) August 28, 2017
While the Celtics hold their own picks as well as future first-rounders from the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies, anything beyond a second-round pick as compensation for Cleveland’s concerns — whatever they may be — should be a deal-breaker. That is, so long as Boston’s assessment of Thomas’ hip, which determined surgery was unnecessary, is not a misrepresentation.
According to Mannix, that is precisely where Boston will draw its line in the sand:
“They’re not going to give up one of the two young players, Brown and Tatum. That’s ridiculous to even suggest that in a deal like this,” The Vertical senior writer told CSNNE. “They’re also not going to give up another first-round pick. They’re done giving up first-round picks.
“Now, Boston may throw in a second-rounder. There’s a glutton of second-round picks the next few years that they can deal with. That may be the type of face-saving move that will allow [Cavaliers owner] Dan Gilbert to declare victory after all this, but if they’re expecting a first-rounder or Tatum or Brown, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
The Cavaliers have little negotiating room left. If Irving was already reportedly willing to sit out camp if the Cavs did not meet his trade request, his relationship with the organization would presumably be beyond irreconcilable if Cleveland were to void this deal now. And any bargaining power Altman might have had in seeking other trades for Irving elsewhere around the league would be limited as a result.
While it would be tough for Thomas and Crowder to return to the Celtics after they so publicly welcomed Irving, especially now that the former is taking his frustration out on the C’s in NBA 2K17 …
— Christian Microulis (@CJMiiv) August 28, 2017
… it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where they come to an understanding once Ainge sat those two down and explained his rationale behind trading them for a 25-year-old four-time All-Star, NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist with two years left on his contract. Tough, but not impossible. Plus, it’s not like a still-to-come Nets pick can complain about being included a trade that fell apart.
Given all these factors, this report from Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon comes as no surprise:
A Cavs source said the two sides need to reach a conclusion by Wednesday evening or mutually agree to extend the deadline. Though the Cavs could void the trade based on Thomas’ injury, a source with knowledge of Cleveland’s thinking still expected a deal to get done.
That much is supported by the fact that Thomas, Crowder and Zizic are all listed on the roster on the Cavaliers’ website and the NBA Store is selling Cleveland No. 3 jerseys with Thomas’ name on the back.
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