Did the Celtics jump too quickly at the opportunity to add Kyrie Irving without fully knowing the extent of Isaiah Thomas’ injury?
Did the Cavaliers use the Thomas physical to turn a done deal into a re-negotiation on a trade Boston couldn’t possibly turn back on?
With so many questions and so much at stake, it is not a stretch to call the Irving re-negotiation the most consequential decision of Danny Ainge’s career. The two sides must come to terms on an agreement by Thursday unless they agree to an extension with training camp looming midway through September.
Two teams in the Conference Finals the year prior have never engaged in a trade, never mind for two cornerstones of their franchises. There’s now a small window to complete the deal, but its effects could echo on both sides for the next decade.
To make matters worse, it doesn’t help that Boston has fallen to the lower side of the leverage seesaw.
Ainge had suggested prior to the trade’s announcement that Boston was still unclear on Thomas’ status. Brad Stevens said that a scan on IT’s torn labrum was scheduled for early September. The Cavaliers finalized the trade before concerns arose on their end following Thomas’ physical, but those worries have been enough for Cleveland to back out of the trade.
For Boston, voiding the trade could be disastrous. Even after playing instrumental roles in the Celtics’ rebuild and becoming fan favorites, it would be unimaginable to see Jae Crowder and Thomas back in a Celtics uniform after this, at least without internal turmoil. Thomas, who opted to not have surgery over the summer heading into a contract year, would also be nearly untradeable at this point.
His interests are also a point of intrigue here. Without the hip condition, Thomas, who finished fifth in 2016-17 NBA MVP voting, was clearly deserving of a max contract after playing in Boston for just over $6 million per year over the last three seasons.
Now, the injury changes everything for him. He doesn’t have control on whether he’s a Celtic or a Cav next season, but Thomas could have some input on whether he plays hurt or waits it out until he’s 100%. It isn’t clear what course of action will ensure the biggest payday, and furthermore, that contract may not even be in Boston or Cleveland.
Whether the Celtics rushed, the Cavaliers pulled a shrewd leverage move, or Thomas’ camp hesitated over the best long-term decision for him, the truth will never be clear. What is perfectly evident is that all parties have to get this right and are pulling as hard as they can to do so.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Cleveland is checking on additional assets including the availability of Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown to get this deal done. CSNNE’s Chris Mannix reported that the Celtics are drawing the line in the sand at an additional second-round pick. The two sides seem as far apart as the TD Garden is from the Staples Center.
“Cleveland is going back asking Boston for an additional asset,” Wojnarowski said. “Boston believes it was completely open...once Cleveland’s doctors looked at Thomas their view is different.”
Ainge has to get this right. A rebuild years in the making is on the verge of progressing to its final stage as a championship contender. If the trade is reversed and Thomas and Crowder are displeased or, even worse, don’t play, it’ll set the Celtics back years.
In many ways, Boston can not turn back. The trade was a monumental risk and a bold shot from the start. They abandoned their beloved core for seemingly brighter horizons and now they may have to give up more future pieces to their main conference rival to get a deal done that they didn’t have to necessarily make.
The Celtics aren’t without leverage though. The Cavs are worried about a future beyond LeBron, and this current deal both bolsters their current roster and gives them ping pong balls and a shot at the #1 pick with the Nets first-rounder.
That breeds some hope for Celtics fans in the most shivering situation the team has faced in a long time. Cleveland created this situation in an incredibly shrewd way, one that should perhaps be investigated by the NBA on both sides, but the reality isn’t going away. One way or another this has to get done, and the two top teams in the East seem engaged in a bitter and pivotal deadlock.