Are the Cavaliers negotiating in bad faith? While We’re Waiting


Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

What a crazy offseason this has been for the Cleveland Cavaliers, huh?

We knew there was a chance for some turmoil. Coming off a disappointing loss to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, there was already a bit of a dark cloud hanging overhead. With GM David Griffin’s contract set to expire, there was some genuine concern. Would the Cavaliers really let Griff walk away? Were there any moves the Cavaliers could make to catch up to the Warriors? Is this going to be LeBron James’ last season with Cleveland?

Then the rumors started. First, it was Paul George who asked to be traded. Then we found out Jimmy Butler might be on the block. Despite not having a contract yet, Griff went to work and was trying to get the Cavaliers in on those trade talks. That had to be a good sign, right? Nope.

Abruptly, David Griffin was excused and the Cavaliers announced they were going their separate ways. From reports, the work Griff was doing on those trades more or less fell to the side as the Cavaliers entered a GM-less abyss. And while stuck in limbo, Paul George was traded to Oklahoma City, Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota, and Chris Paul was sent to Houston. The Cavaliers were still messing around with trying to hire Chauncey Billups as the NBA Draft came and went.

Then came the bombshell. Kyrie Irving wanted out. The superstar PG who hit the biggest shot in team history had enough and wanted to be traded elsewhere. Shortly after that news came out, we found out that Dan Gilbert was promoting Koby Altman to GM. It was by no means a bad hire. Koby has been with the Cavaliers and put in his time, he’s a well-respected executive whose name had come up time and time again as a rising GM possibility somewhere at some point. That time turned out to be now and the place was Cleveland.

Altman had no time to waste as he was tasked with fielding offers for Kyrie Irving, the player many had hoped would be the eventual torch-bearer for the Cavaliers after LeBron James’ reign. With Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and Chris Paul all previously traded, it would seem the options were somewhat limited. As the weeks went on, some braced for a possibility of Kyrie Irving having to report to camp with the Cavaliers.

That didn’t happen, though, as Altman struck a deal with Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics first. Kyrie Irving was sent to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 unprotected first-round pick. It was a heck of a deal for Altman. In his first big move, he did better than many expected. Compared to the return Indiana and Chicago got for George and Butler, respectively, this was an absolute haul. It wasn’t fun having to say goodbye to Kyrie, but at least this was something to work with.

As the days went by, though, things began to feel…weird. There was video on Twitter of an idiot Celtics fan burning his Isaiah Thomas jersey, the other Isiah Thomas (the Hall of Fame former Piston) reported that Isaiah Thomas was deeply hurt by the trade and that the Cavaliers would have to do some work to get IT to trust them, and the whole time the entire Cavs team was strangely silent on social media regarding the trade. Other than LeBron rebuking fans for burning Isaiah’s jerseys (although LeBron was clearly also talking directly to Cleveland fans who burned his jersey back in 2010 as well) and a polite and somewhat tepid tip of the hat to Kyrie, there was nothing. No farewells to Kyrie, no welcome to Cleveland tweets directed at IT or Crowder. It was strange.

But it only got more strange over the weekend when Thomas flew into Cleveland for his physical. Apparently, that physical did not go well. The Cavaliers saw something that freaked them out and now they are going back to the Celtics and asking for more in this trade to complete the deal.

That’s where we stand today. A trade agreed to but not completed. A bunch of players stuck in basketball purgatory. Hard feelings growing on many different sides. And now we sit and wait to see what is going to happen before Thursday’s deadline to either complete the deal or let it fall apart.

Nobody wants this deal to fall apart. How can the Celtics bring back Isaiah and Crowder? What would the Cavaliers do with Kyrie Irving then? They’re not going to get a better deal than what Boston was giving them now. There’s pressure on all sides to get this deal done. So this begs the question. Are the Cavaliers negotiating in bad faith?

There’s a growing sentiment on Twitter and across NBA fan circles that the Koby Altman is being greedy and that he’s going back on an agreed-upon trade to try to milk more assets out of the Celtics. If that were the case, if this was Koby’s plan from the beginning as some have suggested, this would be a major problem.

The crux of the issue here is that we don’t know what the Celtics told the Cavaliers about Isaiah’s hip injury before the deal was agreed to and we don’t know what the Cavaliers’ doctors saw when they looked at the hip. It’s important to note that the Celtics didn’t push for surgery, they prescribed rest for the hip and that’s the route IT took. What if the Cavaliers doctors disagreed with that treatment route? What if they feel surgery is needed and that without it IT is likely to injure his hip further?

I don’t know that’s what they saw, but that’s the point. Nobody does. So to try to project motives onto Koby Altman and the Cavaliers is probably a bit unfair. Yes, this is a Cleveland sports site so I am systematically programmed to defend Cleveland sports teams at all costs, right? Maybe, but we’ve shown time and time again that we will be critical of Cleveland teams when it’s called for. I just don’t think this is one of those times. Not without us having more information.

I don’t love the optics of the Cavaliers going back to the Celtics and asking for more. But I also don’t like this trade as much if Isaiah Thomas isn’t able to play to his full potential this season. What made this trade work was the idea of using IT to replicate Kyrie while adding Crowder for this season as well as having assets to either trade to improve now or else to begin the rebuild should LeBron leave. Without IT’s contributions, this becomes a trade only about the future. That’s why the Cavaliers are concerned. IT being injured completely changes the scope of this trade.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried about Boston eventually saying “screw this” and pulling out of the trade completely, but I think that’s awfully unlikely. The worst case scenario is the original trade just goes through and if IT’s injury is more serious, the Cavaliers have to just deal with it. But any talk of this being a bad faith negotiating ploy on Koby Altman’s part just isn’t founded based on any information that is out there. The Cavaliers have every right to protect themselves and look out for their own best interests, especially if they feel that their outlook on IT’s injury is different than Boston’s. Which isn’t to say Boston did anything wrong, either. There’s no reason to assume Boston hid anything or downplayed the severity. This could simply be a medical difference of opinion between staffs. It happens.

Either way, I think everyone is eager for this to be over. The deadline is Thursday, but the sooner everyone can just move on and get on with their future, the better. I look forward to finally seeing some proper welcome tweets to the newest members of the Cavaliers.