Cleveland purports to be wildly concerned about Thomas's hip, but has yet to formally fail him on his physical test.
The trade of the decade is in danger of being voided. Over the weekend, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the Cavs were unhappy with Isaiah Thomas's physical test due to his recovery from a torn hip labrum. In light of that, Cleveland will reportedly seek additional compensation from the Celtics before finalizing the blockbuster Kyrie Irving deal.
According to NESN.com, the Cavs are reportedly asking for Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum to be added to the trade package. Ask and you shall not receive. Brown and Tatum have been off limits in trade talks all summer. Taytum's inclusion was a major sticking point between the Celtics and Cavs in the weeks leading up to the trade. Boston eventually settled by parting ways with the Brooklyn pick. There is no chance that Danny Ainge will agree to add another promising young piece to complete the deal.
Chris Mannix confirmed that Boston is unwilling to part with Brown, Tatum, or a future first-round pick, adding that the Celtics might be open to adding a second-round pick in order to appease the Cavs. For now, Boston won't go any further than that. Nor should they. Here's why.
1.) The Celtics Have Been Forthright About Thomas's Hip Injury
Isaiah Thomas's hip injury is no secret. IT missed virtually the entire ECF series after being shut down due to his lingering hip issue. Does Koby Altman think that hip labral tears can fully heal in three months? Speculation about Thomas's decision to forgo surgery paired with his dubious availability for the beginning of the season has been well-documented this summer. As recently as August 21, Coach Brad Stevens publicly stated that Boston was unsure if the 5'9" point guard would be ready for opening night. The Celtics are hiding nothing.
Cleveland purports to be wildly concerned about Thomas's hip, but has yet to formally fail him on his physical test. On The Vertical Podcast, writer Steve Bulpett stated that a source told him that, "there is that nothing they've found is anything different than what was conveyed to the Cavaliers in the trade discussions, and certainly in the medical information that was passed forward." If true, Cleveland has no argument to suggest that their trade reasoning was flawed by misinformation or misrepresentation.
In hindsight, the Celtics can argue that the Cavs knew what they were getting for when they agreed to take on Isaiah Thomas. They'll contend that the high-value Brooklyn pick was included partially to offset the risk that accompanies Thomas while he recovers from his injury. Without more evidence or misrepresentation, Cleveland is unjustified in saying that they were duped into thinking that Thomas was healthy.
2.) Cleveland Won't Find A Better Offer Elsewhere
Voiding the deal carries thorny personal ramifications for Boston, but would also put tremendous pressure on Altman to find another trade partner who can offer an equivalent value or better package.
In light of that, Boston's trade package is ideal for Cleveland's situation. The benefit of the Boston's offer is that it allows Cleveland to immediately appease LeBron by remaining competitive this season but carries the insurance policy that will help them jumpstart a new era if LeBron leaves. Thomas is a replacement level offensive star who should replicate a large percentage of Irving's role. There isn't another star player of Thomas's caliber that is available on the current market. Additionally, his contract will end at the same time as LeBron James's, meaning that the Cavaliers can allow LeBron to make his free agency decision before committing long-term to Isaiah.
The Brooklyn pick is one of the most coveted future assets in the NBA. If James leaves, the Cavaliers can go into rebuilding mode around Kevin Love and the elite lottery pick. Alternatively, the pick could be used as tactical trade bait to make a midseason trade run at another star (see: DeMarcus Cousins). With the Suns, Wolves, and Nuggets hesitant to include young cost controlled assets, Altman has limited options for finding another building block asset as valuable as the Brooklyn pick.
On Cleveland's table is Miami's offer of Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow and Milwaukee's offer of Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, and a 1st round pick. Boston's trade package carries significantly more value than both proposals. Unless Milwaukee is willing to part with Jabari Parker, Danny Ainge shouldn't feel intimidated by other interested Kyrie suitors. Even then, the objective NBA GM would probably prefer to hand pick his own 2018 rookie rather than acquire two years of Parker before he hits restricted free agency.
3.) The Trade Is Fair As Currently Constructed
When I was a child, I used to love the book "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" by Laura Numeroff. In the story, a young boy gives a mouse a cookie, then the mouse asks for a glass of milk, then a straw, then a mirror to clean his milk whisker mustache, then scissors to trim his whiskers, and on and on. The pessimistic moral of the story is that the boy allowed the mouse to take advantage of him. In this situation, Koby Altman is the mouse, and Danny Ainge is the child. Altman should be happy with the IT/Crowder/Brooklyn pick cookie that he already has, and Ainge shouldn't allow Cleveland to ask for more.
On the whole, basketball pundits are praising Altman for the package that he was able to pry away from trader Danny. In the wake of the mishandling of the Jimmy Butler and Paul George negotiations, most of the national media is saying that the Cavaliers got the better end of the point guard swap. The move is being met with solid approval rating from the Cleveland fan base, and emotionally, they've moved on from Irving to Thomas. If Altman is suddenly having buyer's regret, it surely isn't motivated by the public disapproval.
The rookie decision maker in Cleveland is playing with fire. Altman has inarguably damaged his working relationship with Ainge, and other NBA GMs are going to be hesitant to do business with Altman if he develops a reputation of reneging on his trade deals. For basketball executives, verbal agreements that are mutually released to the media are as good as signed contracts. So unless Altman can truly show that he was unaware of the severity of Thomas's hip injury, this won't be a good look for him moving forward.
There is an enormous risk for awkwardness if Thomas is forced to come back to Boston after being shipped out. Danny Ainge has been added to a long list of nonbelievers in IT, and Thomas would be justified in not wanting to play for a team that treated him so coldly. For all the bad blood between IT and the Celtics, his only beef should be with Ainge, who was the sole decision maker for this controversial move. But ultimately, there isn't much that Thomas can do other than play his game.
IT is entering a critical contract season and the motivation to earn a max salary deal, wherever it may be, should be enough to fuel his fire. Thomas would surely love nothing more than to replicate his offensive production from last season and disprove Ainge. Thomas knows that if he poisons team chemistry, it could leak to the media, and might negatively impact his value on the open market. He has no choice but to play his hardest regardless of the jersey that he dons.
At most, the Celtics could sweeten the deal by offering a heavily protected second round pick. The pick would start as top-55 protected and could increase in value based on the number of games that Thomas misses. The maximum value would be an unprotected 2nd round pick. The Celtics should go no further than that.
The situation is becoming increasingly more confusing. Yesterday, Cleveland.com Cavs Writer Joe Vardon tweeted that the Cavaliers had not yet formally requested more compensation from the Celtics. The deadline for the finalization of the trade is Wednesday, and Boston and Cleveland can mutually request an extension from the league.