Now that the Celtics deal moving Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 pick – in exchange for Kyrie Irving has been put on hold thanks to Thomas’ hip injury, the Celtics and Cavaliers have entered a game of high stakes chicken. Which, thankfully for the NBA, means that the offseason drama isn’t quite over yet.
The first question we all have to ask ourselves is how bad is Thomas’ injury? It was superficial enough that Thomas and the Celtics mutually decided several weeks ago that it wasn’t grave enough to warrant surgery. But, upon making the trek up to “The Land” to undergo his mandatory physical, the Cavaliers felt that it was serious enough that Thomas wouldn’t even be playing the first game of the season. This is where the game of chicken begins. Who calls who’s bluff? Are the Cavaliers only exacerbating the situation to garner more assets, or are they genuinely concerned for Thomas’ health? That’s the first question Danny Ainge has to ponder. The second question Ainge has to ask himself is how awkward would it be to have Thomas, Crowder and Zizic return after you’ve already traded them like dispensable Pokemon cards for a holographic Charizard? Adversely, how awkward would it be in Cleveland’s locker room after Irving was traded, only to return because the guy who was essentially replacing him wasn’t healthy enough?
The key to the Celtics decision lies in two truths; the first being that they’ve already sacrificed more than enough for Irving. Not only did they make a straight up trade for their two respective point guards, but they gave Cleveland a utility-knife at small forward, and the Nets unprotected 2018 pick that will almost certainly fall in the top three. An asset that they could not only use to bolster their forces after LeBron James’ reign in “The Land” ends, but they could also trade to acquire another cornerstone piece for their eventual showdown with Golden State. What more could they ask for? They’ve already received a point guard with skill equivalent to the star they lost, plus a great draft pick that they could use a number of ways.
The second way of looking at the situation is; who can make a better offer than the Celtics? Eric Bledsoe, Josh Jackson and Marquese Chriss are all fun pieces to imagine playing alongside James, but they aren’t better than what the Celtics have already agreed to trade for Kyrie. The Cavaliers can’t gamble the Celtics offer away at the expense of greed, because, obviously, it was their best offer thus far to begin with. So, it’d be best for the Celtics to call their bluff, and force them into making the decision that ensures them something for Irving, as opposed to selling him for twenty-five cents on the dollar.
Lastly, to trade any more of the Celtics blossoming talent for one player like Irving would be purely irresponsible on Ainge’s part. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are poised to be corner stones for this franchise alongside Gordon Hayward, Guerschon Yabusele and potentially Irving – and for a team hoisting its potential above all else, that’s imperative.