That’s according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, who reported Thursday, “One league source with an understanding of Cleveland’s situation told me that as news spread throughout the organization that Thomas could miss time deep into the upcoming season, James and Lue cooled on the deal.”
O’Connor added that “Thomas’s health and a less enthusiastic James and Lue had [Cavs owner Dan] Gilbert shook.” Gilbert may have seen the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick as the real prize in his team’s trade with the Celtics, one that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for a package that also included forwards Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic and a 2020 second-rounder, but he also wants the team to remain a championship contender in what could be James’s final season in Cleveland.
James can opt out of his contract next summer, and he’s widely expected to do so and leave the Cavs for another team, possibly the Lakers. According to O’Connor, Gilbert “is operating under the assumption” that James is, in fact, a goner, but the owner liked the Thomas trade because it allowed the Cavs to “be competitive in 2017—18 while preparing for life after LeBron.”
Even without Thomas, a nucleus of James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, plus Crowder, could keep Cleveland more than competitive in the Eastern Conference, but the team would pose almost no threat to the Warriors in a possible fourth straight Finals showdown. The Cavs likely wouldn’t mind ceding home-court advantage in the East playoffs to the Celtics, much as they did last season, while they waited for Thomas to recover, as long as they still had time to fully incorporate his game.
“No one is willing to put a timeline on when Thomas might return to the court,” wrote The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd. “The fact he isn’t running yet certainly is not a good sign.“One source with experience dealing with the type of hip problems Thomas is facing predicted it could be January or even the all-star break before Thomas returns to game action. That doesn’t leave much time for a new player to establish chemistry and rhythm with a team trying to compete for a championship.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Friday that the Cavs are “not going to rush it” with Thomas. The team is reportedly “optimistic” that he will “play at his usually high level” after he returns this season, and it plans on having a recovery timetable by the end of September.
Thomas has insisted that his hip injury, which he incurred in a March game and re-aggravated in the playoffs, is just a temporary setback. “I am not damaged,” he said recently. “ … Maybe I am not going to be back as soon this season as everyone wants me to be, but I’m going to be back, and I’m going to be the same player again.”