- - Monday, August 28, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We thought the NBA offseason couldn’t get any juicer after the blockbuster trade between Cleveland and Boston, which followed a sea change of summer movement involving Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Chris Paul and others.

The Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas deal was unlike any in NBA history, with a potential league-wide ripple effect. The top two contenders in a conference don’t exchange All-Star players at the same position, especially the season after meeting in the conference finals. Players taken at opposite ends of a draft (Irving, first in 2011, and Thomas, dead-last the same year) aren’t traded for one another.

That’s crazy, right?

Maybe too crazy to materialize.

Cleveland received an impressive haul for its disgruntled point guard, netting Thomas, starter Jae Crowder, prospect Ante Zizcic and Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first-round pick. In theory, that package is enough to make LeBron James reconsider leaving Ohio, a relocation that’s widely presumed to occur after next season.

But now, everything is in limbo, reportedly because the Cavaliers don’t like the looks of Thomas‘ hip. They might ask Boston to sweeten the deal, which could lead to a voided trade with everyone remaining in place.

Celtics president Danny Ainge didn’t help matters last week after the trade was announced, admitting on a conference call that “there’s probably going to be a little bit of a delay for Isaiah as he starts the season this year, but — um — I think that Isaiah should be fine and healthy as the season goes along.”

That was the first sign that Thomas, who suffered a torn labrum in his right hip last season, might have lingering health concerns.

The second sign apparently was the physical exam Cleveland administered last Friday. Thomas didn’t have surgery this offseason, opting for rehabilitation instead, and reportedly has yet to begin a regimen of running.

Cleveland and Boston would have an industrial-sized mess on their hands if this deal falls apart.

Ainge would fend off charges of peddling damaged goods. New Cavs GM Kobe Altman would face accusations of dirty dealing and buyer’s remorse. Irving would be back in the situation he’s anxious to escape, playing alongside potential short-timer James.

Crowder would have bruised feelings to lick. But no one would have a crummier case than Thomas. In addition to swallowing Boston’s attempt to get rid of him, he’d have to overcome other teams’ doubts about him physically, a year before he’s due to hit free agency.

It’s hard to imagine Thomas returning to Boston at this point. His namesake, NBA Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas, said the move hit I.T. “like a punch in the gut because it came out of nowhere” compared to Irving, who anticipated a trade.

“In talking to Isaiah the other night, now he’s scrambling to find out where his kids are going to go to school, trying to find a place to live, and it was just so unexpected for him,” Thomas told MMAFighting.com after speaking to the young point guard. “And the thing that really kind of pulled at my heartstrings was that, you know, he said he gave his heart and soul to the Celtics; he gave them everything.

“We all understand it’s a business, but to have it happen in such a way for him, I think it really hurt him,” Thomas said. “And I think it’s going to be difficult for him to trust again, to give that trust, that loyalty, that love to another organization. … He’s a small guy. The thing that gets him over is his love and his passion. If those things are kind of missing a little bit, it’s going to be hard.”

The Celtics’ Thomas finished fifth in MVP voting last season and regularly dominated fourth quarters. His diminutive stature and unquestioned toughness made him a fan favorite, even more so during the postseason. His brilliant play following his sister’s tragic death made him a sympathetic figure.

He still has a chance to team with James on a Cleveland squad that should be favored to reach the NBA Finals again. And Irving still has a chance to make Boston the biggest obstacle. The teams square off Oct. 17 in a season opener that would feel like a playoff game. It would be personal, not business.

The Irving-Thomas trade was a stunner that shook the NBA landscape.

But we’re in store for a bigger shockwave if this deal is voided.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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