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Why the Cavaliers' shakedown of the Celtics just might work

David Liam Kyle / National Basketball Association / Getty

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owned and operated by a billionaire who built his wealth off of a mortgage business, so they know exactly how to squeeze every last dollar out of a deal.

The Boston Celtics find themselves in Cleveland's vice grip after agreeing to a blockbuster swap of Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas earlier this week. Both teams rushed to immediately announce the deal, but there remained one pesky detail: Thomas' health.

All trades are subject to the completion of a physical, and Thomas has been carrying an injured hip since March. Having received some apparently troubling scans, the Cavaliers are now reportedly demanding more compensation in order to complete the trade.

Concerns over Thomas' hip are entirely valid, but the bigger point is that his questionable physical gave the Cavaliers leverage to shake the Celtics down for an even bigger return.

And given the position of both teams, it just might work.

Backing out is not an option for Boston

Even though both sides agreed to the initial trade, the Celtics are far more committed to its completion than the Cavaliers are.

What's the worst that can happen if the trade falls apart for the Cavaliers? Irving returns as an unhappy camper, but he already wanted out. Cleveland would have the challenge of finding another deal of equal or greater value than their current agreement, but there's no shortage of suitors for the massively popular four-time All-Star.

Walking it back wouldn't be so bad for the Cavaliers. The same cannot be said for the Celtics.

Boston's front office was roundly ripped for backstabbing Thomas - even though they returned a more accomplished player in Irving - and deservedly so. Thomas was not only the team's top scorer and their leader in the locker room, but he bled Celtic green, played on a dirt-cheap deal, and the Celtics strung him along on his massive raise before cutting bait.

The Celtics may insist that trading Thomas was just a cold bit of business, but there's too much heartbreak to overcome if the trade falls apart.

It was Thomas who played hurt through his hip injury to propel the Celtics to the top seed in the East. It was Thomas who suited up days after his sister was killed in a car crash to save the Celtics from an embarrassing out in the first round of the playoffs. It was Thomas who helped recruit Al Horford last summer, then Gordon Hayward this year. It was the arrival of Thomas that spawned three-straight playoff appearances and a return to relevancy. It was Thomas that became the face of the franchise with one clutch performance after another. He was beloved for many reasons.

Bringing Thomas back into the fold and pretending nothing happened would be simply untenable. This was already an unfamiliar Celtics roster that needed to establish a new chemistry. Returning their betrayed captain would be a nightmare for both the locker room and for fans.

Finding a new taker for Thomas in another trade would also be difficult, especially if all this noise was made about his injury. Who else will part with significant assets for an expiring year of Thomas given his condition? Irving is the best they can do.

Boston needs this trade to go through more than Cleveland, which gives the Cavaliers leverage to squeeze out a bigger return.

So what else can Cleveland get?

The Celtics reportedly wouldn't surrender No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum in trade talks for Irving, but just about everything else should be on the table.

The most realistic options would be to include one of the 2019 first-round picks from the Los Angeles Clippers or the Memphis Grizzlies. Both franchises figure to make the playoffs two years from now, but they're also carrying aging rosters in an incredibly competitive West, so those picks could potentially land in the lottery. This figures to be the most palatable solution.

If the Celtics are really desperate, the Cavaliers should ask for the 2018 first-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers that is only protected for No. 1 or from 6-30. That pick will likely be a high lottery selection, which could give Cleveland two massive rebuilding pieces from a top-heavy, but loaded draft in the event that LeBron James walks in free agency.

Boston could ditch the picks and attach additional prospects, although Cleveland would be running short on guaranteed roster spots. Throwing in Danny Ainge's beloved muse Terry Rozier or tantalizing French forward Guerschon Yabusele would be a plus, although that would require the Cavs cutting another player. Upgrading from Ante Zizic to last year's 3rd pick Jaylen Brown would be highly unlikely, but could also theoretically work.

The point is Boston has more to offer. They'll likely hold their ground on Brown, Tatum, and the Lakers pick, but just about everything else should be attainable for Cleveland to poach in their shakedown.

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