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NBA AM: What is Next For The Celtics and Cavs?

The Celtics and Cavs will likely re-work their blockbuster, as the Cavs perceive Thomas’ injury differently than the Celtics did.

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What Is Next?

While the idea of the Cleveland Cavaliers having issue with their end of the Kyrie Irving trade has been out there for several days, via the venerable Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. What is starting to come out is exactly what the issue is from the Cavaliers’ side.

While some are suggesting that maybe the Boston Celtics were not as open about the severity of guard Isaiah Thomas’ injured hip, that does not seem to be the real case. What does seem to be the case, according to sources close to the Cavaliers, is that the Cavs medical team simply does not agree with what Boston’s medical team believed to be the prognosis on Thomas.

One dialed-in source said that Thomas has not yet been cleared to do much more than riding a bike and that the Cavs were skeptical that Thomas would be ready for the start of the season. The belief, as explained by the source, was that even if cleared, there was a greater probability of him re-injuring or completely tearing his hip labrum than making a complete recovery.

The NBA requires all traded players to pass a physical unless one of the teams waives that right. In this case, the Celtics felt like they were completely transparent about Thomas and where their medical staff believed he was—the issue here is not dishonesty or misleading information on the part of the Celtics, rather a difference of medical opinions.

The Cavs have every right to void the trade if they don’t agree with the medical condition of a player they are taking in return.

While some have expressed outrage that the Cavs would try and re-open the trade parameters, the reality is while the Cavs did know about Thomas’ injury, they believed he’d be able to get completely healthy at some point and be able to help the team in the second part of the season. If Thomas is not able to play, it’s a problem on two fronts: the biggest being that his $6.261 million contract is a “taxed amount.” Paying luxury tax on a player that cannot play is never smart, even though the Cavs trimmed their tax burden considerably in the transaction, they are still over the tax line.

The second issue is the trade, as composed, puts the Cavs at 15 guaranteed contracts, giving them no roster flexibility without eating a guaranteed deal.

While some are pointing to the unprotected 2018 Brooklyn Nets’ pick as the gem of the trade, the Cavs also made the deal with the expectation that they were also getting two “win-now players” in Thomas and Jae Crowder. While the future flexibility of Thomas’ ending contract and the possibility of a high pick were key parts of the deal, only getting part of it is not nearly as favorable, especially with the tax and roster complications.

The Cavs and Celtics have until 10 am EST on Thursday to finalize the deal unless both agree to extend the deadline. They could mutually agree to extend the deadline, however.

The prevailing thought in NBA circles is that the Celtics will agree to more compensation. While there has been renewed talk of including either Jaylen Brown or Jason Tatum from the Boston side, sources say neither is a real consideration. What seems to be more likely is the Celtics including another draft pick, likely their own 2018 pick.

The Cavaliers have been exploring trade scenarios with guard Iman Shumpert, and while there have been several teams who have expressed a willingness to take on Shumpert’s $10.33 million deal, most of those teams want a draft pick to grease a deal. Landing another pick via Boston makes that easier for the Cavs to offload the contract and open a roster spot for a replacement player if Thomas indeed can’t get healthy. If the Cavs can move Shumpert without taking a ton of salary back, taking the risk on Thomas becomes more palatable as the tax and roster burden would decrease.

While there has been a lot of finger pointing and accusations from the fans surrounding both of the teams involved, what’s become clear in this is that both Boston and Thomas were betting on the short-term—that Thomas could get healthy and play this season. That makes sense when you factor that Boston only had Thomas for one more season before he sought a massive payday and had he had surgery, he would have likely missed most of the year. In the same vein, it’s difficult to blame Thomas for opting against surgery, as he needed to play this season to lock in that long-term deal.

In talking to league sources who have experienced similar situations, they point to this being somewhat common, in that a team and a player try to be optimistic about an injury. However, for the Cavaliers, they are taking a more pragmatic approach, mainly because they can’t really afford to be wrong on what Thomas really is.

The Cavs and Celtics do not seem to be adversarial about all of this, as both sides still seem to want the deal. What seems to be playing out is that more value will have to be included to make it work, because the Cavs don’t seem to agree with where Boston thought Thomas was at medically.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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