The Cleveland Cavaliers Could Never Afford to Void the Isaiah Thomas Trade

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To be honest, is anyone really surprised at how much of a circus the Kyrie Irving trade saga became? In the end, the outcome fit perfectly into the chaotic offseason the Cleveland Cavaliers have been having.

When you see a team let a championship-winning GM walk, get stood up by a potential replacement with zero experience and then be presented with a trade demand from one of the best players on the roster, all while under the cloud of uncertainty regarding LeBron James‘ status past this season, well, expecting a smooth outcome for any move seems lofty.

So, when the Irving trade to the Boston Celtics went from “done deal” to “potentially voided” in the span of a couple days, it was hardly surprising. An apparently unsettling physical on Isaiah Thomas‘ hip reportedly had the Cavs thinking about backing out of the trade and sending an unhappy Irving back to Cleveland.

However, a few days of two fan-bases holding their collective breath came to an end last night when it was announced the trade was official. The Cavs were able to angle a 2020 second round pick out of Boston, putting the drama to rest.

As underwhelming as the extra returns might’ve been, it’s actually quite surprising Cleveland was able to add anything to the deal in the first place. This is mainly due to the fact that, regardless of how much posturing was put on, the Cavs simply couldn’t afford to renege on this trade.

The main reason Cleveland had to see this deal through is pretty simple – just look at the majority of the grades released when the news first broke.

Much of the feedback noted how well the Cavs did in the trade, netting an all-star point guard, a very valuable Jae Crowder, and the Brooklyn Nets‘ unprotected 2018 first round pick. When you look at the returns other teams have been getting when dealing their respective disgruntled stars, Cleveland netted quite a haul.

You can certainly argue the team traded for damaged goods, considering the best player in the deal – Thomas – might not be available to play until midseason. This certainly isn’t incorrect. The Cavs now have to rely on the historically fragile Derrick Rose as their starting point guard, hardly an enviable situation.

At the same time, Thomas wasn’t the prized piece of the deal.

Cleveland couldn’t allow this trade to be voided simply because it would mean losing the Brooklyn pick, easily the most important element of the package.

This isn’t to disrespect Thomas or Crowder. When healthy, the former is one of the best point guards in the league, while the latter provides the Cavs athletic bench depth they haven’t seen since James returned in 2014.

Still, the Nets pick is far more important than both.

It’s said draft selection which gives Cleveland power in a situation where James sticks around. It’s also a huge safety net to fall back on if he instead decides to depart.

Should it appear as though James is committed to the Cavs, the Brooklyn pick could be used in a blockbuster trade to help the team win now. If he instead flees, Cleveland has a potential Top 3 selection to utilize and start a proper rebuild. This is a luxury the team didn’t have the last time its best player bolted in free agency.

Simply put, said draft pick is one of the most prized assets in the NBA. Boston has held it closely for a while now, refusing to part with it in attempts to trade for Paul George or Jimmy Butler. There wasn’t a single team which could’ve offered something comparable, much less more valuable.

As a result, Cleveland could only go so far in this staring contest. There’s a decent chance the team was simply applying some gamesmanship to see if there was any way to squeeze a little extra out of the Celtics.

To be honest, the fact the Cavs were able to do so is impressive, regardless of how anticlimactic the actual bonus piece was. This is because, at the end of the day, they knew there was no way they could risk rejecting this deal and losing a key piece to the future of the franchise.

Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook


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