Isaiah Thomas is an honest dude. Ask him a question, he responds in real talk. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he’ll answer any questions you might have about them, too. This is who he is. This, along with a heart that belies his 5-foot-9 frame, is what made him so likable on the Boston Celtics.
It’s also what’s gotten him into a bit of bind on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
His narrative is an easy one to write. The last pick in the 2011 draft rose to All-NBA prominence out of nowhere in Boston and laid his body on the line for the Celtics, only to be discarded for the first pick of that same draft in a trade that pitted Kyrie Irving opposite LeBron James in the Eastern Conference.
Now, on the verge of returning from the injury that cost him much of Boston’s conference finals series against Cleveland, with Irving operating as an MVP candidate for the Celtics and James needing a wingman to alleviate his own herculean effort, Thomas could tip the scales in the Cavs’ favor again.
Oh, and did we mention Boston hosts Cleveland on Jan. 3, right around the time Thomas has targeted for his debut? Needless to say, he’s going to be asked plenty about the Celtics at every opportunity.
He’s expressed his love for Boston, while at the same time holding a grudge against Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge for trading him. And on Christmas Day, in a conversation with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Thomas again detailed the complete range of emotions he felt after the deal.
“I was hurt,” he said in response to a question about Ainge citing his injury as one reason the Celtics traded him. (Ainge also answers questions with brutal honesty). “I was very hurt,” Thomas added, “because I gave them everything I had. I gave them too much, when I should’ve just sat out, especially with all the stuff I was going through. And when I say ‘going through,’ with my sister passing and things like that. You don’t do things like that, man, so that’s why it hurt. And it was a weird situation for him to say one of the reasons he traded me was because of my hip, because I hurt my hip on your time.”
Thomas said again he doesn’t plan to talk to Ainge anytime soon, and he doesn’t trust the Cavs, either. He then tripled down on his belief that he deserves a max contract this summer. This is the honesty and eternal optimism of Thomas that is so endearing. It’s also a little naive, since his “back up the Brinks truck” comments were just as big a factor in the Celtics’ willingness to trade him, inured or not.
Maybe on some level Thomas understands that playing until his hip gave out cost him quite a bit of money in 2018. This explains why, if he had to do it all over again, he said he wouldn’t have played for the C’s in last year’s playoffs — a run that began with the death of his sister Chyna and ended with the torn hip labrum. In between, Thomas and Boston forged a bond that could not be broken by a trade.
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) December 25, 2017
We know this is how Thomas feels now with the benefit of hindsight, because he told us as much, and his word is his bond. It’s still hard to imagine him sitting out the playoffs, even if he had known the risks of playing on an existing right femoral-acetabular impingement that he aggravated twice before finally being forced to shut his season down in May, because Thomas wanted nothing more than to lead the Celtics in the postseason. It’s also unclear whether doctors communicated those risks at all.
The Celtics parted ways with their strength and conditioning coach and team trainer this summer, but I’m guessing the doctors who still serve the organization would have a different take on this Thomas charge: “I do wish I had more information. It was never, ‘This can be something that can possibly shut you down for a while,’ because if that was the case, then I definitely wouldn’t have played.”
However macabre, it’s this that made Thomas’ story so compelling. He rose from nothing to become one of the NBA’s biggest bargains, played through tragedy and pain for the game he loved on a team he thought he loved, and when it came time to cash in on it all, he became expendable. Nothing more than a commodity. Rarely has the cold-hearted business of basketball been so blatantly obvious.
And now Thomas has to prove himself all over again in Cleveland.
Yet, now this Celtics-centric discussion surrounding Thomas four months after the trade has some in both Boston and Cleveland wondering why he is still harping on the C’s when he’s a Cavalier now. Well, as it turns out, Thomas has an answer for that, too, complete with all the requisite emotions:
It’s funny how people think I keep bringing up the dumbass trade situation. It’s the media asking the same dumbass questions about it. So it’s obvious they want to keep it going. It’s not like when I’m interviewed I’m asking them can you PLEASE bring up the trade please lol.
“I will always love Boston,” Thomas added in a series of tweets on Tuesday. “That city and organization gave me a [sic] opportunity to be a superstar and I took it and ran with it. I am a Cleveland Cavalier now and I’m more than happy to be one. Just sit back and watch how special 2018 is going to be.”
Don’t get mad at me like im sitting here wanting to still talk about the trade. Get mad at the person interviewing me lol. Get mad at the questions not the REAL answers! These post were for the people who think I’m salty about the trade… Good morning to y’all too lol
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) December 26, 2017
And then his customary sign-off:
Hating Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm CLOSED on weekends & holidays
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) December 26, 2017
(He added the holidays part, because, well, Christmas.)
We understand Thomas’ frustration. He is, after all, just answering the questions he’s being asked, as usual. But those questions aren’t going to end any time soon, especially since the Cavs and Celtics could be headed for another conference finals showdown, and he will be a free agent this coming summer, at which point questions about his health, the trade and NBA loyalty are sure to rise again.
It’s also not just the media perpetuating the story. All season long, Thomas has been promoting “Book of Isaiah,” a web series published on The Players’ Tribune that details the trade and his recovery:
At the end of the day, it was a business move by a business man.
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) December 20, 2017
So, if he wants the discussion to end, Thomas might have to end it himself. If he stops answering the questions, they will cease at some point. Not that we want that, because his honesty is so refreshing.
For the record, it should be obvious to everyone that it’s possible to both be bitter about how a trade went down and excited about where you ended up in that trade. Isaiah Thomas is just keeping it real.
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