Three questions and a prediction as the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah trade is in limbo

In case you’ve been under a rock, here’s the situation with the
Boston Celtics
Cleveland Cavaliers
right now. 

  • Aug. 22: Cleveland agreed to trade
    Kyrie Irving
    to Boston in exchange for
    Isaiah Thomas
    Jae Crowder
    Ante Zizic
    and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick, which the Celtics own courtesy of that train heist Danny Ainge pulled on the Nets in 2013. The Irving deal was a shocker. No real news of it leaked out more than a few hours before it was announced, and not too long after that, Ainge was on a media conference call welcoming Irving to Boston while bidding an emotional farewell to Thomas and Crowder. The trade was done. Or so everyone thought. 
  • Aug. 25: It was reported the Cavs might consider rescinding the trade after Thomas’ injured hip — which ended his season after Game 2 of last season’s Eastern Conference finals — raised red flags during his physical. 
  • Aug. 26: It was reported the Cavs would seek further compensation for Irving. On the same day, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated tweeted the Celtics would “strongly resist” adding any deal sweetener, believing they had been transparent with Cleveland about Thomas’ health. 
  • Aug. 27: It was reported that Cavs are hoping to get Jayson Tatum (this year’s No. 3 overall pick), Jaylen Brown (last year’s No. 3 overall pick) or another one of Boston’s future first-round picks added to the deal. 

And that’s where we stand, with these two teams effectively locked in a game of chicken. Here are three questions and a prediction to ponder as we look toward Wednesday, which is the Cavs’ deadline to rescind the trade. Our Brad Botkin, James Herbert, Matt Moore and Colin Ward-Henninger got together to break it down.

Would Cavs actually rescind deal, or are they bluffing?

Brad Botkin: For the most part, I think they’re bluffing. Sure, they’re hoping to use Thomas’ hip situation as a means of squeezing a little more out of this deal, but if Boston doesn’t budge and refuses to part with any more assets, you have to seriously doubt the Cavs would actually go back on this deal. They know they have to trade Irving eventually, and they’re unlikely to get a better deal for him than the one they just got from Boston — Thomas’ hip notwithstanding. They simply cannot lose that 2018 Nets pick with the prospect of
LeBron James
leaving looking more like reality

James Herbert: Neither team wants to rescind the deal. The Cavaliers would like more compensation to account for the risk they are taking on with Thomas’ injury, and Boston can fairly argue that it already has given them more than enough. As well as the injured star, Cleveland got a versatile 3-and-D guy who can help against the
Golden State Warriors
, plus a pick that could wind up being more valuable than Irving. Walking away from this deal would be extremely tough for the Cavs’ front office. 

Matt Moore: They’re bluffing. They know there won’t be a more valuable asset than the 2018 Nets pick no matter what they do with it, and they know they can’t go into training camp in five weeks with Irving on the team. They need this deal. The problem is Boston needs it way more. The Celtics have leveraged themselves publicly. You can’t repair this situation with Thomas and then say, “Never mind!” This is personal for him. Thomas is a much different person than Lamar Odom, but when the 2011
Chris Paul
trade to the
Los Angeles Lakers
was rejected by the league (acting as Hornets ownership), Odom was so hurt he wanted out, and the Lakers wound up getting nothing for him. Not an apples-to-apples comparison, but this is a similar set of circumstances. The demon is out the box. It was out of the box for Cleveland the minute Irving made his demand, so whether this deal goes through doesn’t change anything for the Cavs. For the Celtics, failing to complete this deal would corrupt their well-executed plans for this season. 

Colin Ward-Henninger: The reasonable answer is no, but this summer has been anything but reasonable. The Cavs have a new, young GM in Koby Altman who’s trying to establish himself at the negotiating table. If he’s under the impression that Boston was trying to pull the wool over his eyes regarding Thomas’ injury, Altman could take a firm stand to show other teams in the league he’s not one to be made a fool of. The Celtics are reportedly going to strongly resist adding anything to the package, so Altman and headstrong owner Dan Gilbert may see vetoing the trade as their only option to prove they’re not suckers. There’s no reason Cleveland should rescind the trade — even an injured Isaiah makes this package a 9.5 out of 10 — but what teams should do and what they end up doing often are two very different things.


The severity of Isaiah Thomas’ hip injury is the crux of this matter.
Getty Images

How concerned should Cavs be about Thomas’ hip?

Botkin: Obviously they should be concerned. They still expect to be in the Finals next season, and Thomas is supposed to replace Irving’s production. In fact, you could argue that with Thomas canceling out Irving and the addition of Crowder making them a better, more versatile defensive team on the perimeter, the Cavs have actually closed the gap on the Warriors. This may be their last chance to win a title with James. They can’t do that without a healthy Thomas playing the way he did last season. 

But look, even if Thomas misses time at the start of the year, even if he doesn’t get on the court until, say, February, the Cavs don’t care about the regular season. Even in the absolute worst-case scenario, if Thomas misses the whole year or returns as a shell of himself, the Cavs only had to pay him $6 million and they can cut bait next summer. 

The bottom line is this: Even if Thomas hadn’t been included in the deal in the first place, Crowder and that Nets pick would still represent more-than-fair compensation for Irving when you consider what the
Chicago Bulls
Indiana Pacers
got for
Jimmy Butler
Paul George
. Thomas is a bonus in this deal, as crazy as that sounds for a guy who averaged 28 a game. If he’s healthy and plays great, maybe you offer him a Kyle-Lowry-like three-year, $100 million deal next summer. If not, you cut him loose and move forward with that Brooklyn pick — either dealing it for a star should LeBron stay, or starting your rebuild with it should he leave. 

Herbert: Hard to say, but it sure sounds like they’re more concerned than they were before their doctors examined him. Hip injuries are no joke, and Thomas will turn 29 in February. Even without this injury, there would be long-term concerns about signing him to a massive contract next summer, because he relies so much on quickness and takes so many hits when he drives. This is part of why the Celtics gave up so much more than just Thomas in this trade, despite the fact he and Irving are similar players. The big question for Cleveland: Is this injury career changing? If it’s just going to sideline Thomas the first part of the season, it’s not a huge problem. 

Moore: Be concerned. the
Denver Nuggets

Wilson Chandler
went through something very similar, and it took Chandler years to re-stabilize the hip, only to suffer the labral tear again in 2015, which cost him a year. It’s not like a knee or shoulder injury, the hip takes a long, long time to restrengthen and you can’t hardly do any support work in the meantime. You just have to let it heal. Thomas’ injury may not be as severe, but it could persist and reoccur, and that’s enough for the Cavaliers to rightfully be very cautious. 

Ward-Henninger: Look, the Cavs won 51 games last season and had everyone saying, “They’re not just gonna be able to turn it on in the playoffs.” But then they did, and steamrolled their way to the Finals. The only teams they need to be remotely concerned with are Washington and Boston, so Cleveland’s primary objective is to get to the playoffs healthy. If that means Isaiah has to miss the first 20 games of the season, so be it. Someone would need to pick up the offensive workload, but
Kevin Love
has been aching to get back to his 25-and-12 Minnesota days … plus
Derrick Rose
has never met a shot he didn’t like. The only concern the Cavs have with Thomas is whether he’ll be at full strength for the playoffs, so they’ll be cautious with him to start the season.

If trade does fall through, who’s in worse spot?

Botkin: The Cavs. The human element in Boston would be touchy. Thomas was apparently emotionally “wounded” by the trade. But from a basketball standpoint, should the trade fall through, Boston could still go out and get a lot for that Brooklyn pick and Crowder, and maybe even Tatum or Brown in the right deal. But Cleveland has no other play. They don’t have any draft picks available for trade until 2021. They’ve already seen how little interest there is in Kevin Love. Irving wants out, everyone knows it, meaning the Cavs have almost no leverage to get another deal like this. Cleveland has the power to scrap the deal, yes, but Boston has more leverage. 

Herbert: It’s not great for anybody. According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, Irving planned to stay home rather than reporting to camp had the Cavs failed to trade him. Maybe Cleveland can find another acceptable deal if this is rescinded, but it’s unlikely it can quickly find one as exciting as this looked when agreed upon. Boston would be in an awkward position, too, as it would have to smooth things over with Thomas, who is entering a contract year. The person who would be in the worst spot, though, is Thomas. Not only will he have been unnecessarily jerked around, he will have to fight the perception he is now damaged goods, which almost certainly will affect contract negotiations next summer. 

Moore: Boston. The Cavs will pivot and work out a deal with Milwaukee, San Antonio or Phoenix. Their worst-case scenario is pretty much the same: they’re losing Irving, which is bad, but they knew that regardless of this deal. They would be in the same spot they were in before last week. The Celtics, though? The Celtics face a chemistry blow-up, you just spent two days hyping how great Irving is, and now he plays for another team. You have burned relationships with your franchise point guard and Crowder, enraged their agents and families, already shown you’re willing to trade that pick which impacts its leverage, and Irving becomes another star player you wanted and failed to land.   

Ward-Henninger: Yes, the Cavs are unlikely to get as strong a package in return for Irving the second time around, but think about it this way: Before this trade even happened, the Cavs have had a disgruntled star who wanted out. If the trade gets nixed, they’ll be in the exact same position. Boston, on the other hand, entered the summer with a budding superstar who had finally found a home after being discarded repeatedly. But now, if the trade falls through, there’s no way Thomas could ever play for them again. Boston would be forced into trading Thomas for a player or package that almost assuredly wouldn’t be as strong as Irving. Boston has every incentive to complete this trade, which likely is part of the reason the Cavs are asking for more.

Danny Ainge at a press conference

Does anyone think Danny Ainge will give in to Cleveland’s reported demands?
Getty Images

Prediction: How does this ultimately play out?

Botkin: No way this deal isn’t going through. Both teams have too much to lose, and the PR headache would be a nightmare, let alone trying to figure out how to bring back players who know you wanted to trade them. The Celtics, after laughing in the Cavs’ face at the suggestion that they part with Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, will end up sending over one of its own future first-rounders — nothing with a chance of being a lottery pick, and certainly not that Lakers pick they own next year, which could be in the top five. The Celtics won’t like it. But they love Irving, and it will put all this drama to bed. 

Herbert: The Celtics will add a protected pick to the package, but nothing more. This is already a pretty sweet deal for the Cavaliers, so it’s hard to imagine them getting another rotation player or unprotected pick in renegotiation. Both sides want to avoid the headaches that would come with walking this thing back. 

Moore: The Celtics throw in an additional asset —
Terry Rozier
, the
Memphis Grizzlies
‘ 2019 pick or their own 2019 pick. They’ll have to sweeten the pot. It wouldn’t be shocking if the deal goes down as is, but I’ll go ahead and call my shot and say they get one more pick. 

Ward-Henninger: Ultimately, the deal goes through as is. There’s really no down side to the Cavs asking for more from Boston, so they’ll likely negotiate for a few days until they realize Ainge really won’t give in. As Brad mentioned, neither team wants to see this trade revoked, so the Celtics will stand firm until the Cavs realize they should just be happy with what they have.