Fresh off reports that the Cavs weren’t especially happy with the state of Isaiah Thomas’s injured hip, Adrian Wojnarowski last night reported that the Cavaliers will ask the Celtics to include more assets in the Kyrie Irving trade, with the threat of a veto looming over re-engaged negotiations:
Without revisions to the original trade agreement, the Cavaliers could threaten to veto the trade, league sources said.
The Cavaliers’ stance could trigger a standoff between Cleveland and Boston officials, forcing both organizations to weigh the consequences of letting the blockbuster trade implode.
This, my friends, is delicious. An important component of this threat is this: Kyrie Irving is under contract for two more seasons, with a third, $21 million player option season tacked on to the end. For as much interest as the Cavs have in moving Irving now, while his value is still sky-high as a trade asset, he is still a very good, very useful player under contract for a couple seasons, and a dependable playoff performer. For the Cavaliers, there are certainly worse options than simply bringing him back for another season. Kyrie would probably not be especially thrilled to return to the fold now that the bridges are half-burned, but the Cavs would manage. Remember, they don’t even have to play especially well to pile up 50 wins and wind up in the conference finals.
The math is weirder for the Celtics. They traded down in the draft and out of a chance to draft Markelle Fultz, in order to draft a somewhat redundant swingman. That decision is defensible while you’ve got an All-Star caliber point guard healthy and under contract. When that point guard appeared to be Isaiah Thomas, it was puzzling, but fine—Thomas’s next contract is going to be expensive, and tiny players don’t tend to age well into their 30s, but Thomas is, right now, an incredible offensive force, and the Celtics would be fine in the short term. If that point guard is Irving, the Celtics are fine in the short-term and, at least in theory, fine in the long-term. Irving will hit unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019, but that’s a long way off, and two seasons of playing alongside Gordon Hayward in the depleted Eastern Conference seems like the kind of thing that could convince a fellow to stick around. On the other hand, you’d think three seasons of playing in the Finals alongside the best player in the world would have the same effect. Who knows.
The Celtics clearly really wanted Kyrie Irving, much more than they wanted Jimmy Butler or Paul George. That Nets pick is massively valuable, and the fact that they offered it for a player who plays the same position as their very best player tells you some of what they think about the next chapter of those two players’ careers. Cleveland can yank Kyrie back now, and be only minimally worse for wear. The hot potato in this transaction is Isaiah Thomas. With his age, his contract status, his stature, and that damn hip injury, neither team is all that thrilled at the prospect of having him. But if Isaiah Thomas is worthless during a large part of this contract season, neither of these teams can really afford to part with Kyrie Irving, as the deal is currently constructed. The Cavs would be stuck with either starting Derrick Rose or trying to swap that Nets pick for another point guard. The Celtics would go back to being asset rich, but with less certainty than ever about what happens with Isaiah Thomas after this season. They can flip assets for their point guard of the future now, or they can go back to their holding pattern and hope another opportunity like this one comes along down the line. But these chances don’t come along very often!
The obvious additional asset, then, would be Terry Rozier. If the Cavs take on a point guard who might not be able to play, they ought to at least get back one who can, especially if they want some chance of coaxing LeBron James to stick around beyond this coming season. But Danny Ainge has been famously reluctant to include Rozier in any trade package, probably because he was looking down the line at this moment, when Isaiah’s time in Boston is coming to a close, and the team needs a player who can at least in theory claim the title of Point Guard Of The Future. Kyrie would obviously seize that title immediately upon arrival, making Rozier a cheap, quality backup.
And Terry Rozier is pretty good! He can shoot a little, he can handle a little, he can defend reasonably well at both guard spots, and he’s a feisty, athletic dude. He’d be a nice get for the Cavs, whether Isaiah can play or not. If Isaiah is out for a while, Rozier could play alongside LeBron, in a role that’s not so unlike what he’s done playing in two-guard lineups with the Celtics. And if Isaiah is healthy, Rozier would make Derrick Rose a cheap luxury.
Pending a mutually agreed-upon extension, the deadline for the Kyrie Irving blockbuster trade to complete or collapse is Thursday morning.