If Isaiah Thomas is traded this offseason it would be the worst move of Danny Ainge’s tenure as the Celtics GM. The calls from many Celtics “fans” to trade the player who led the team to 53 wins and the #1 seed in the eastern conference are purely based upon a single playoff game.
For the Celtics to win that playoff game in his absence it took Lebron James having a historically bad playoff game, Marcus Smart becoming Steph Curry, and a ridiculous bounce in a game winner to secure the victory. That singular game made the media think Isaiah Thomas was magically expendable, which is blatantly wrong for multiple reasons.
1. The return in a deal would not be what people anticipate.
The common thought amongst many people is that the Celtics can receive assets such as a lottery pick in this year’s loaded draft for him. However, it would make no sense for a rebuilding lottery team in a stacked class to trade their pick for a 5’9 point guard on a 1 year contract. Not to mention he is nearly 30 and likely at the end of his prime. No team in this year’s lottery can possibly believe that adding Isaiah will elevate them into championship contention. The closest bets may be Minnesota or Denver, but they would still be clearly behind Golden State and other western conference teams. The return would likely be picks in future drafts and maybe some role players, which wouldn’t satisfy the Celtics or their fans in any way.
2. Trading Isaiah would cause a chain of negative reactions.
If the Celtics did trade Isaiah Thomas it would show the current players on their roster that upper management doesn’t believe they are good enough to be real contenders. Contributors like Bradley and Crowder could want out to play for a team that wants to win, and Al Horford would be left scratching his head with 3 years left on his max deal. Wouldn’t you be a bit upset if the guy who recruited you to a new team to try and win got traded? Brad Stevens would be left without his only consistent scorer. Celtics fans would have no reason to want to buy tickets. Isaiah Thomas jerseys are the biggest thing in Boston outside of Brady jerseys, the team would be left without an identity. Lastly Isaiah Thomas would be crushed. He has turned Boston into a home and has said multiple times he loves playing here and wants to bring banner 18 to Boston. He wouldn’t be happy to be traded for the third time in his career.
3. Trading IT wouldn’t make any sense given recent Celtics’ moves.
The Celtics just signed an aging Al Horford to a 4 year max deal. Why would they do that if they don’t plan on attempting to win now? Horford isn’t getting any younger and he’s already over 30 and likely won’t be getting any better. On top of this, recent reports are that the Celtics will be going all out for Gordon Hayward this summer. Trading IT would deter him from signing if done prior to free agency. If done after a potential Hayward signing, he would probably be mad that he came here to win and the team traded their best player. Pursuing all these max players such as Horford, Kevin Durant and Hayward makes so sense if the Celtics plan on trading Isaiah Thomas.
4. He brings relevancy to the Celtics.
Before acquiring Isaiah Thomas the Celtics were a lowly lottery team on their way to another high lottery draft pick. After acquiring him they flipped the switch and had one of the best second half records of the 2014-2015 season and slipped into the playoffs as the 7th seed with 40 wins. It’s been all uphill from there, as the Celtics win total has gone from 40, to 48, to 53 last season. At the same time, Isaiah has constantly elevated his play as his tenure in Boston has gone on. He has gone from 6th man, to all star, to a likely top 5 MVP candidate. Getting rid of him would bring the Celtics a step backwards and likely make them a fringe playoff team or even a lottery team. In this past season Isaiah missed a total of 6 games and in those games the team went 2-4, only beating the lowly Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets. One of those losses came against the 76ers without Joel Embiid. That game consisted of Al Horford getting near a 30 point triple double, but that wasn’t enough to stop the Dario Saric led 76ers. Albeit it is a small sample size, it is still indicative of Isaiah’s impact on the team.
Now before the counter arguments begin, I’m well aware of every point to be made against him. He is a defensive liability. He probably can’t be the best player on a championship team. The Celtics are likely about to add Markelle Fultz. That being said, he adds so much on the offensive side it makes up for allowing some points here and there. He may not be able to carry a title team, but he can definitely be a top scoring contributor to one. Him and Fultz can both easily play together, both are good off ball players and they have even talked about this together and think they can be a terrorizing backcourt. Danny Ainge and the Washington coach who coached both IT and Fultz have also said they will be able to fit together. The Celtics need to allow Isaiah to play out his contract this season, make another deep playoff run, then evaluate next offseason whether he’s worth a max and then they will have an idea on what they have in Fultz and other future assets.
Next summer they can see if he’s willing to take a decreased role eventually and maybe offer a hometown discount. If he isn’t a part of the plans after next season, then simply let him walk in free agency. Another year of contention is worth more than what could be acquired in a trade for a 28 year old 5’9 point guard on a 1 year deal.