Newest Cavaliers guard faces biggest challenge
Isaiah Thomas’ basketball journey is littered with decision-makers who have underestimated the diminutive guard.
He was selected last in the 2011 NBA draft coming out of Washington, and when he arrived in Boston he looked only to be a role player for the storied franchise. Thomas has had to prove his worth with every stop.
Now, following the biggest slight of his NBA career, he’ll have to do it again.
All eyes will be watching how he rebounds after Tuesday’s blockbuster trade. The Celtics sent the two-time All-Star packing from a franchise and city that he’d embraced with every ounce of his 5-foot-9 frame. He’s now bound for Cleveland in exchange for a bigger star — and what the Celtics believe is a better point guard for them — in Kyrie Irving.
For all the praise Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge showered on Thomas in explaining what he’s meant to the Celtics, the organization took Irving — a four-time All-Star, Olympic and NBA champion — over the scrappy underdog who’s just beginning to build his resume.
It’s the ultimate reminder of how fickle the business of the NBA can be.
“I’ll leave it to your own imaginations to realize how difficult that conversation might have been for me and Isaiah,” Ainge said of informing Thomas of the trade.
Difficult perhaps, but it underscores the fact that an NBA executive with a moniker like “Trader Danny” clearly prioritizes the pursuit of championships over personal bonds.
“You do pay a heavy price for a player of that age and that caliber,” Ainge said of acquiring Irving.
Many have paid a hefty price for undervaluing Thomas, and Ainge may not be done paying yet.
Thomas always plays with a chip on his shoulder and he was not only traded for a player who plays the same position, in the same conference, but he was dealt to the team Ainge and the Celtics are trying to beat. Now he will be playing alongside arguably the best player in the world in LeBron James, and both will be motivated to deny Boston a shot at the title — once again.
It was just three months ago that Thomas was trudging into the most melancholy offseason of his six-year career.
The 28-year-old was battered after leading Boston to the top seed in the Eastern Conference, only to have a hip injury leave him sidelined for the majority of the conference finals in an unsuccessful bid to unseat James and the Cavaliers.
But that journey also was overshadowed by the sudden death of his younger sister on the eve of the playoffs and losing a tooth during Boston’s second-round series with Washington.