Storyline: Isaiah Thomas Trade

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The Lakers’ complicated landscape was highlighted in unexpected form on ESPN’s airwaves on Thursday afternoon, when Goodwin was watching the NBA show The Jump with host Rachel Nichols and decided to chime in when the notion of Thomas possibly coming off the bench was raised. “HE IS NOT COMING OFF THE BENCH,” Goodwin texted Nichols, who added that Thomas would likely push for a buyout if he was not going to be a starter. Anyone who has paid attention during Thomas’ against-all-odds career knows how much he despises coming off the bench. In Nov. 2014, during an interview with USA TODAY Sports for a story about the Sixth Man stigma during his time as a Phoenix Suns reserve, he said, “(Starting) has been my mindset from Day 1, since I was a little boy. I mean, everybody wants to be a starter. I’d be lying to you if I said it doesn’t bother me that I don’t start.”

Did it surprise you how sideways everything became (in Cleveland)? I mean, Isaiah fights for seven months to get back, and he has his future on the line, the whole situation had to be frustrating. Aaron Goodwin: You’re absolutely right. He fought to get himself in this position so he could be healthy and play. To kind of be hindered a little bit was frustrating. Although he was trying to fight through it and trying to be a good team player, this was not his style of play. I think that it became clear over the course of the last few weeks that (the Cavs) would have to figure out some type of way to utilize two players at the same time, and it wasn’t going to work.

Did Isaiah Thomas inspire this move with his outspoken ways in these past few weeks? Amick: In a word, yes. The locker room dynamic was not healthy, and Thomas’ penchant for speaking his mind about the inner turmoil only made matters worse. Add in the fact that he struggled during his 15-game stay and the Cavs were more than happy to send him to the exits. There is a strong sense from Thomas’ side that James was among those who wanted to see him go – a claim that is refuted by James’ associates. Either way, Thomas now gets a better pathway to his own free agency this summer while the Cavs can get to work repairing their well-chronicled chemistry problems.

There is hope that recently acquired Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas can return to the court before the end of the calendar year. But even though the return of the diminutive maestro is still a couple of months away, he’s not waiting on the sidelines in the ongoing war of words between the Cavaliers and his former Boston Celtics team.

Gordon Hayward: When the rumors about Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving started, I tried not to worry about it too much. This offseason especially, there have been so many rumors, and so many different things have happened. I really was just focused on continuing to work out, continuing to put the time in. But it really started to get real when this happened:

Gordon Hayward: My first reaction was to text I.T., and wish him the best. That was a really strange moment because I’d really been looking forward to playing with him. He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

Gordon Hayward: All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him. But that is just how the business works. I have spent enough years in the NBA to realize that things can change like that, in an instant. Still, even though we didn’t necessarily get to be teammates, I’m definitely going to be watching him as a fan. In this league, I think we are all rooting for each other in some way or another—just to try to stay healthy, to try to be the best we can be.

As Celtics training camp approaches, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge appears at ease with the major overhaul to the roster over the summer. In the coming weeks and months, the Celtics will have to find their locker room leader and spiritual leader because the incumbents — Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder — were traded to the Cavaliers. The Celtics’ brass essentially have no idea one week before camp who will assume these roles. Nothing at this point is certain, and Ainge is OK with that. “So when we acquired Isaiah, nobody knew he was going to be this Isaiah,” Ainge said. “Going into it nobody knew he was going to be the player that he was last year. When we got Jae Crowder in the trade for [Rajon] Rondo, nobody knew who Jae Crowder was. They just knew he didn’t play very much in Dallas.

Isaiah Thomas said the Boston Celtics he left behind were as shocked as he was when he was traded to the Cavaliers. “After all you did, that’s how they do you,” Thomas said to cleveland.com. “That was everybody’s text message. … I can’t control that and my teammates know what I meant to that team and the organization knows and that’s what matters the most. The people I was around each and every day. “But I think not just myself, everybody was surprised. Everybody.”

Isaiah Thomas: And then somewhere in there, it was just like … it was barely anything. This little pause in the conversation. And that’s when Danny Ainge told me. “I just traded you.” Simple as that. No big words, no big speech. Though I guess when it comes to shit like that, there’s not much more to say. “To where.” That’s all I could manage. “To the Cavaliers, for Kyrie.” You ever been on the phone, and someone says something … and then all of a sudden, all you can think about after is, I don’t want to be on the phone anymore? Not even in a rude way. Just, like, your willpower to have a conversation shuts down. That’s what it was like for me in that moment. Danny started going on about everything I’ve done for the city of Boston, and for the Celtics organization, both on and off the court. About what a great player I am, and how I’m going to be great in Cleveland. You know, telling me that type of stuff. And it was just like … at that point in time? I definitely didn’t want to hear none of that.

Isaiah Thomas: It’s not that I don’t understand it. Of course I get it: This is a business. Danny is a businessman, and he made a business move. I don’t agree with it, just personally, and I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better by making this trade. But that’s not my job. That’s Danny’s. And it’s a tough job, and he’s been really good at it. But at the end of the day, these deals just come down to one thing: business. So it’s no hard feelings on that end. I’m a grown man, and I know what I got into when I joined this league — and so far it’s been more blessings than curses. I’m not sitting here, writing this, because I feel I was wronged. I wasn’t wronged. It was Boston’s right to trade me.

Guys go down next to LeBron James year after year, yet very little has stopped the party since 2007 — and not at all since 2010. And while a whole lot of people got their knickers twisted when Cleveland temporarily braked the deal, the end result was as good as anyone in Northern Ohio could expect, given the complete lack of leverage the Cavaliers had once Irving’s trade demands and unhappiness became public. (No, Koby Altman’s future as a GM isn’t ruined; everyone around the league knows the straight jacket every Cleveland exec is in, with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert driving the bus. Hey, he paid for the bus; he can drive it if he wants. Altman did a hell of a job getting what he got.)

Anyway, James can afford to be sanguine about his future. Wherever he plays, championship opportunities follow. The Cavs don’t have that luxury. Which is why they were never going to blow up the proposed deal from the Celtics. That deal held the key to their future — their post-LeBron future. There was no chance they were going to walk away from that. The unprotected 2018 pick, whether it’s the first pick next June or the fifth, gives Cleveland a chance at a pre-20-year-old talent that it never would have a shot at through the rest of this decade, and probably well into the next.

Danny Ainge had to pull the trigger. The gulf between the Cavs and Celtics in the conference finals last year was enormous. Boston couldn’t match Cleveland’s firepower, whether in the halfcourt or in transition. The NBA is all about scoring, and if you have enough elite two-way players like Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on your team, you have a chance to be able to play enough defense to win big. The Celtics had very good defenders in Crowder and Amir Johnson, but you couldn’t start two non-scoring threats against the Cavs. Kyrie Irving is the best — the best — player in the league with the basketball. Better than Westbrook, who’s electric and fierce, and John Wall, who’s a blur. There’s no one who can stay in front of Irving; he goes from zero to scalding in about four seconds.

“I’ll leave it to your own imaginations to realize how difficult that conversation might have been—for me and Isaiah,” Ainge said after the trade. “Isaiah had just an amazing season this year and entertained us all—the whole city of Boston, and everybody fell in love with him. You know, he’s such an underdog because of his size and his heart and his spirit in which he plays. It was very challenging to make this decision.” An agent texted me that “Danny would trade his son Austin if he had to.”

Gilbert’s fingerprints were all over the drama that’s unfolded over the past week. Thomas’s health is what held up the deal, but according to multiple league sources with knowledge of Cleveland’s thought process, the unprotected Nets pick and Crowder were the pieces that Cleveland valued the most—those were the assets that got the deal done, not Thomas. The perception of the trade was that the Cavaliers and Celtics swapped franchise point guards, but for the Cleveland front office (and its owner), Thomas was the icing, not the cake.

So, the Cavaliers and Celtics are discussing how to complete their trade, which is held up by Thomas’ physical. Will the Cavs request another pick? If they don’t get it, will they void the deal entirely? Former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin on NBA TV: “Sometimes in these situations, you think of it as mutually assured destruction. There’s not a lot of upside to deal coming undone for either side. And because of that, I think it will end up going through as is.”

The Cleveland-Boston standoff over Isaiah Thomas’s health also signaled the rest of the league: The bidding for Kyrie Irving is still open. It looks unlikely the Cleveland Cavaliers will pry a better haul than the Boston Celtics’ standing offer of Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected pick in the 2018 draft — even with Thomas’ status so uncertain due to a lingering hip injury. That may embolden Boston to draw the line at one or two more second-round picks after Cleveland finally asked them Tuesday night for extra compensation.

Boston was forthright about the injury in talks with Cleveland before the teams agreed to a trade on Aug. 22, sources say, but Cleveland’s doctors may come to a different conclusion about Thomas’ prognosis for the coming season — the last before LeBron James enters free agency as a flight risk again. If recovery from various hip ailments, including a bone bruise, does not proceed smoothly, there is at least a slight chance Thomas would miss most of the 2017-18 season, sources say. (Thomas disagrees.)

Thomas told ESPN that doctors said his torn labrum will not affect how long he plays. However, Thomas did indicate he may not be ready for the start of the season. “There’s never been an indication that I wouldn’t be back, and there’s never been an indication that this is something messing up my career,” he said. “Maybe I am not going to be back as soon this season as everyone wants me to be, but I’m going to be back, and I’m going to be the same player again. No doctor has told me anything different than that.”

Given how far along the two sides are and what the Cavs are getting in return for disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving — Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected first round pick — former Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin believes protege Koby Altman should proceed as planned, saying he would make the same deal if still running the front office. “I think I would have,” Griffin told NBA TV late Tuesday night. “I really think Koby Altman made a tremendous trade here, given the circumstances. When you’re trying to win a championship, there is no in between. You’re all the way with me, or you’re all the way against me. And I think this was a situation where Kyrie made it clear he had a goal set that might not have jived with what Cleveland’s was.

“Boston is resisting, and will initially at least, resist this idea,” Wojnarowski said. “Boston believes that it was completely transparent with Cleveland about where Thomas was physically, his rehab. Cleveland’s version of this is that they didn’t realize how long Thomas could potentially be out this season, he’s in the final year of his contract, and obviously, that matches up with what will likely be the final year of LeBron’s current deal, and so there’s going to be a showdown between these two teams that may last a couple more days.”

Adrian Wojnarowski: “It puts Isaiah Thomas in a really difficult place. He’s gonna be a free agent at the end of this season and he’s looking for the biggest financial score of his career. And both teams dragging him through this is really unfair to his future because he may very well get through and be fully recovered when he gets into free agency next year. The focus is really on how soon can he play this season. But it’s certainly damaging his value around the league, and probably unfairly so.”

The Cavaliers declined to comment on a new ESPN report that the team would seek further compensation for Kyrie Irving because of the severity of Isaiah Thomas’ hip injury. Two Cavs sources said Saturday night only that the team was “still in the review process” in determining what do about the week’s blockbuster trade with Boston, in which Cleveland agreed to ship Irving to the Celtics for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s No. 1 pick.

Because Thomas is in the final year of his contract — which coincides with LeBron James’ opt-out next summer — Cleveland has an urgency to get Thomas on the court this year. All along, Boston has believed it was clear in its assessment of Thomas’ physical status and that information was communicated to the Cavaliers in the conversations prior to Tuesday’s trade, league sources said. In a telephone conference call with reporters after the trade was announced, Celtics GM Danny Ainge admitted that Thomas’ physical condition played “some” role in trading Thomas to Cleveland as part of the Irving package.

The Cavaliers are indeed pausing to consider a “concern that we have” regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip, a source told cleveland.com, while Kyrie Irving is undergoing his physical today in Boston. Two sources with knowledge of the Cavs’ thinking said the team is conducting a “very deep and thorough review process” on Thomas, whom Cleveland acquired Tuesday in a blockbuster trade along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn No. 1 pick for Irving.

In the aftermath of issues resulting from Isaiah Thomas’ physical examination on Friday, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics are planning a telephone call for Saturday to discuss the status of the teams’ blockbuster trade, league sources told ESPN. The proposed deal sending Cleveland’s four-time All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round pick via Brooklyn has been thrust into uncertainty with medical questions surrounding Thomas’ injured hip, league sources told ESPN.

It is possible that Cleveland could request further compensation from Boston before it’ll approve the trade, league sources said. Cleveland has until Thursday to make a final decision on approving the trade, sources said. Cleveland can veto the deal based on a failed physical, sending players back to their respective teams. Thomas took the exam in Cleveland on Friday before flying back home to the West Coast, league sources said. “It’s very sensitive situation,” one source involved in the process told ESPN.
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