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Everything that led to the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas blockbuster trade

Kyrie Irving is finally a Celtic and Isaiah Thomas is finally a Cavalier, but this big trade took a lot longer than initially expected.

2017 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Monica Davey/Pool/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving is still headed to the Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas is still bound for Cleveland, and an extra 2020 second-round pick is all it took to finally make it happen. The summer blockbuster that had stalled after the Cavaliers requested more compensation for Thomas after receiving the results of his physical is finally complete.

It has been more than a week since news broke about the trade, one of the most dramatic reshapings of a conference’s power structure we’ve seen in years. At first, the move stunned us, as anything of this magnitude would. Before long, it turned into a bizarre ticking clock toward a seemingly inevitable conclusion.

Still, no one could take their eyes off it.

Here’s a timeline of how the Irving-for-Thomas deal played out.

JULY 9-15

At some point this week, Irving reportedly asked the Cavaliers front office for a trade.


On a Friday afternoon when the NBA offseason is supposed to be quieting down for good, the news breaks. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst has the details and the NBA world is thrown into chaos. Minnesota, San Antonio, New York, and Miami are reportedly on Irving’s short list.

Later that evening, the Cavaliers officially hire assistant general manager Koby Altman as the team’s new general manager. Altman had been running Cleveland’s front office since David Griffin stepped down days before his contract was set to expire in late June.


“There are two teams that can give the Cavaliers what they want for Irving,” Kristian Winfield writes for SB Nation in an article detailing how much attention Irving had received from around the league. One of them is the Celtics, a team we’ve always realized could trade for him — but one we assumed wouldn’t for a variety of reasons.

AUG. 15

It’s reported that the Cavaliers want a package that includes a proven veteran, a young player, and a first-round pick. If not that, they’re at least looking for a combination that would help address them winning now and building for the future, especially if LeBron James leaves.

AUG. 22

News of the Boston and Cleveland trade breaks, quickly escalating from talks to an agreed-upon deal. Irving is headed to the Celtics, while the Cavaliers are getting Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick.

Later that night, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge admits Thomas’ hip injury played “some role” in trading him.

AUG. 23

Apparently the Milwaukee Bucks were close — or were not close, depending on which report you believe — to trading for Irving. That came out the day after the Irving trade was announced.

The package would have included Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and a first-round pick.

AUG. 26

DRAMA! On Saturday, five days after the NBA world had wrapped its head around Irving being traded to the Celtics, it was reported that the Cavaliers were “mulling over” after receiving Thomas’ physical. Later that day, it was reported that they would seek further compensation for the trade, unhappy with Thomas’ health after suffering a hip injury last playoffs.

Nobody knew what to expect. Would the trade get called off? Neither side could really afford that, but especially Boston. Fortunately, the Celtics had a number of assets, several that were extremely expendable.

AUG. 28

The standoff continued. Cleveland was reportedly going to ask for Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, then thought better of it, which is good because Boston would have cackled at such a request.

Instead, some sort of pick made more sense for everyone involved — either a future second-rounder, or a late first that Cleveland kept pushing to get.

AUG. 30

In what seemed like a clear attempt at leverage, it came out that Cleveland might ditch the Celtics trade and go with Milwaukee’s offer instead. It still wasn’t clear whether the Bucks’ package was totally real, or a speculative thing that the Cavaliers were using for leverage. Either way, Boston didn’t budge.

On Wednesday evening, the two teams finally, officially ended their stalemate: Boston agreed to send Miami’s 2020 second-round pick to Cleveland, a pick of minor value that still satiated the Cavaliers’ desire for one more asset. It was a small win for Altman, still just weeks into the job, and it was a harmless compromise by Boston.

Finally, the Irving trade is through. But it took a while.