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What the Cavs’ Concerns About Isaiah Thomas’s Health Mean for the Kyrie Irving Trade

The Kyrie Irving blockbuster trade is imperiled, but Cleveland isn’t without options

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Hold your horses, pause your Blu-rays, and don’t buy or burn that jersey just yet. The NBA offseason drama may not be over.

Like all the best news dumps, one dropped late Friday night from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. He reported that after Isaiah Thomas traveled to Cleveland and underwent the routine physical that players must pass in all trades, the Cavs were “still evaluating” Thomas’s injured hip and “weighing their options” before completing the deal that included Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Boston’s 2018 unprotected first-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets (hold this thought). Woj went on to report that a “source involved in the process” described the situation as “sensitive.” There was no clear indication whether Thomas had passed the physical or not.

On Saturday afternoon, Woj followed up his Friday report, specifying that there was, indeed, concern that Thomas’s hip would hinder him from being ready for the start of the 2017 season. Woj also reported that the Cavs would seek “an additional trade asset” to go ahead with the deal. Let the staring contest begin.

How bad is Thomas’s hip? What is the market for Irving outside of Boston? The answers to those questions may lead Cleveland to swallow its new demand and accept their current return for Kyrie, or to leverage the concerns about Thomas to wrangle more from Boston—another first-round pick perhaps? The Celtics, meanwhile, could call the Cavs’ bluff, standing firm on their original offer if they believe Cleveland can’t find a better deal get. Cleveland has the ultimate trump card: the Cavs could void the deal. Either way, this trade is officially teetering back and forth between completion and obsolescence, which feels just about right since Danny Ainge is involved.

Deep breath. We can infer that IT’s health still requires attention and some level of treatment, even though Thomas’s injured hip (a labral tear) was said to be “great” just a couple of weeks ago (remember, the Celtics and Thomas opted not to have surgery in late July). The update after the physical likely wouldn’t have been reported otherwise.

There is precedent for this kind of situation. In 2009, Tyson Chandler had already been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder when he failed a physical because of a possible resurgence of a toe injury, a risk that OKC refused to take on. The trade was rescinded. That situation was particularly fascinating given that the same doctor that made the ruling on Chandler was the one who diagnosed the injury on him when it first occurred.

If the Cavs void the trade altogether, Thomas and Crowder would return to the team that just bid them farewell, and LeBron would be paired with Irving once again. This would be both hilarious and awkward. Reports after the trade suggested that Irving was ready to enact his personal version of a training-camp holdout if he wasn’t traded, so one would assume the Cavs would find a way to deal him regardless.

Here’s the reality: Even with an injured Thomas as part of the deal, this may be the best package Cleveland can get for Irving. When the trade was “made,” it was largely regarded as a fantastic move for new Cavs GM Koby Altman, who landed in a tough situation with Irving already wanting out. He accomplished more than what was expected by landing two really good players (Thomas and Crowder) and a possible top-five pick in next year’s draft. It was a win-win, a plan to continue to contend in the present while preparing for a future, with or without LeBron.

Following the news of Thomas’s physical, the burden of decision-making is back on the Cavs. They can void the trade, or try to, if Thomas isn’t as healthy as he was portrayed to be. Or they can still take the deal, and the value of the pick, and run with it. A third option may be to use the situation as leverage. Our own Kevin O’Connor makes the suggestion here that it wouldn’t be surprising if the Cavs took on an injured Thomas and asked for another pick. The Celtics would seemingly have no choice but to surrender it given the late wrinkle of Thomas’s hip.

This throws a giant wrench into what is possibly the biggest trade of the offseason. A full shutdown of the deal wouldn’t just undo Danny Ainge’s long overdue trade for a superstar or Cleveland’s solution to the Kyrie demand. It would have ramifications throughout the league.

Maybe the Pawtucket Red Sox should hold off on Kyrie Irving Day a little while longer.

This piece was updated after publication with additional information.