As it stands, the stalemate between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers continues. The two teams agreed last week to a blockbuster trade of their respective All-Star point guards, landing Kyrie Irving in Boston while sending Isaiah Thomas (plus forward Jae Crowder, rookie center Ante Zizic, and the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round draft pick) to Cleveland. That deal isn’t yet completed, though, due to concerns over the health of Thomas’ injured right hip that left new Cavs general manager Koby Altman “planning to seek an additional trade asset” from Boston as the cost of taking on an injured player. (Thomas, for his part, insists he’s not damaged goods.) The Celtics aren’t budging. And so, we wait.
With the agreed-upon deal still hanging in the balance, ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported Wednesday that “the bidding for Kyrie Irving is still open” … with one prospective suitor lying in wait, right in Cleveland’s division:
The Milwaukee Bucks lurk on the fringes of the Irving bidding with an offer centered around Malcolm Brogdon, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, and Khris Middleton, sources say. The Bucks have not yet put a first-round pick on the table, sources say, but the bet here is that they would to get the deal done — or if Irving showed any interest in staying in Milwaukee long-term.
Lowe’s report comes one week after Arizona sports radio host John Gambadoro reported that Milwaukee had “offered Brogdon, Middleton and a [first]-round pick” for Irving, and gotten close to a deal, before Danny Ainge blew the Cavs away with Boston’s offer. Shortly thereafter, Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press cited league sources in reporting that the “Bucks never offered Middleton, Brogdon and a pick as was reported.”
Whether such a package was ever officially offered at that point, or merely proposed — or floated, hypothesized, or whatever other phrase allows plausible deniability in the event the discussions ever made their way into the ears of the principal players (or the public domain) — remains unclear. There’s clearly some fire underneath all that smoke, though, so the question is whether this deal would pique the Cavs’ interest more than the other previously formulated swaps should things ultimately fall apart with Boston.
You can certainly understand why it might. Neither Middleton nor Brogdon provide near the level of playmaking punch that Thomas offers, but they’re both capable secondary ball-handlers and passers who would figure to slot in well alongside a ball-dominant superstar like LeBron James. They can shoot — 40.8 percent from 3-point range for Middleton during his four years with the Bucks, 40.4 percent from deep for Brogdon as a rookie.
More importantly, they’re big. Middleton’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 235 lbs. Brogdon goes 6-foot-5, 215 lbs. Both having wingspans north of 6-foot-10. They’re long, smart, good and active defenders who can switch screens and guard multiple positions. They’re not Jimmy Butler and Paul George, the two All-Star wings the Cavs reportedly worked to import earlier this summer before they ultimately landed elsewhere, but they’d be super useful pieces for a Cavaliers team that struggled mightily to match up like-for-like with the wing-heavy Golden State Warriors during June’s 2017 NBA Finals.
A healthy Thomas clearly outshines them both in terms of overall value (though Middleton is better than many fans probably realize) and pure playmaking prowess. But getting two solid players who fit the bill against the only team the Cavs worry about — and who would help ensure Cleveland wouldn’t have to rely on Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert and Deron Williams for more than 40 total minutes per night against the Golden State wrecking crew — would represent a strong bounce-back after a markedly disappointing summer for the defending Eastern Conference champions.
It would also be a significant step down from the best version of the Celtics’ offer, though. Cleveland would get a similar wing benefit from the Boston deal by adding Crowder, a hard-nosed and dogged defender who also shot 40 percent from beyond the arc last season. Adding a developmental prospect in Zizic, a 20-year-old Croatian 7-footer who profiles as a quality rebounder behind starting center Tristan Thompson, is a plus.
And, obviously, Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first-round pick — which might not be the No. 1 pick, as it was this year, when Boston redirected it to the Philadelphia 76ers to snag Duke’s Jayson Tatum and a protected first from either the Los Angeles Lakers or Sacramento Kings, but still figures to be quite good, since the Nets likely won’t be — outshines any pick from a Bucks team that looks like it’ll be a playoff mainstay in the East for years to come. (Especially if they add Irving.)
As Lowe details, and as we have discussed, the Celtics’ package continues to look like the best one on the board for the Cavs, even given the possibility that a rocky road to recovery presents “at least a slight chance Thomas would miss most of the 2017-18 season.” The most likely scenario, then, would seem to be the two teams getting the deal done, after much hemming and hawing.
If they’re going to do so, the clock’s ticking. According to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, “the two sides need to reach a conclusion by Wednesday evening or mutually agree to extend the deadline” for passing the physicals to complete the trade, which ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says “is 10 a.m. ET Thursday, per league rules.” If they can’t come to an agreement, voiding the deal and putting the kibosh on the NBA summer’s biggest blockbuster, it sounds like the Bucks will be waiting by the phone, eager for the opportunity to land an elite offensive weapon to pair with rising superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in a tandem that would give the Bucks more firepower than they’ve wielded in ages.
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