Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news last night that the Cavaliers are “considering possible ramifications” after putting Isaiah Thomas through a physical after he was acquired from the Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade.
Thomas was scratched from the Eastern Conference Finals after re-aggravating a hip injury, an injury that was eventually diagnosed as a right femoral-acetabular impingement with labral tear. He and the Celtics elected to forego surgery this offseason, and instead use rest and rehab to bring Thomas’s hip back to normal. As recently as the hours leading up to the trade, the Celtics appeared outwardly calm and patient with Thomas’s recovery, pointing to “the early part of September” as the next point of reference for his progress.
Now it appears the Cavs aren’t loving the look of that injury and the progress towards recovery.
It’s hard to know which team is in a tougher spot, today. The Cavs absolutely need Isaiah Thomas to replace Kyrie Irving’s productivity—their next best option at point guard is Derrick Rose, and while that may sound like a cruel joke, Rose isn’t literally the worst backup option in the league, although his skill-set isn’t suited especially well to playing off-ball alongside LeBron James, and he’s a poor enough defender that he might be unplayable in a Warriors series, should the Cavs return to the Finals. They’ve also got José Calderón and Kay Felder, but the less said about those two, the better.
They’ve also, right now, got that Brooklyn pick, perhaps the most coveted trade asset in the NBA, which, in theory, could be flipped to strengthen the Cavs in whatever way they see themselves as weak. But using it to get a point guard after acquiring it in a trade in which they already did would be painful. On the other hand, the haul the Cavs got for Irving is enormous, and they could not expect to get anything close to equal value if they were to void the deal and get back on the market.
Then there’s this: the Cavs may not have a whole lot of long-term interest in Isaiah Thomas. Remember, LeBron has not committed to the Cavs beyond this upcoming season, and Thomas’s contract status makes him an appealing co-star for the Cavs—if LeBron leaves in free agency, they can just let Isaiah walk and pocket the savings while they start rebuilding around that Nets pick. Or, if LeBron decides to stay, and wants Thomas around, they can pull a Kevin Durant and sign Isaiah first, then use LeBron’s Bird Rights to pay him over the salary cap. But they have the option of getting out from under Isaiah and his injured hip as soon as next summer, and the Nets pick alone might make it worth waiting out the injury into the regular season.
If the trade were voided, the Celtics would have to take back a hurt and, I’m sure, deeply disgruntled Isaiah Thomas. They would be losing their point guard of the future, and the player for whom they were willing to part with two of their most valuable assets: that Nets pick, and Jae Crowder’s incredibly below-market contract, which pays him just $22 million over the next three seasons. And, if Isaiah’s physical with the Cavs revealed the true nature and timeline of his injury, and it was bad enough to not be worth keeping an unprotected Nets pick and Crowder, presumably Thomas’s trade value would go all the way into the toilet. The Kyrie trade seems like the all-in culmination of Danny Ainge’s multi-year asset collection project, and walking back from it and back into asset hoarding would undoubtedly be a painful development. Would it be worth it for the Celtics to throw in another chip to keep the deal from falling apart?
Woj says the Cavs have not reached out to the Celtics to discuss issues with the trade, but they can use the physical to void the trade, and it’s not by accident that the words “completion of the deal” and “voided” made their way out to the public. We may not be done with Kyrie Irving trade drama after all.