On the surface, the Boston Celtics are in a good place.
They have the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected 2018 first-rounder, and one of the best basketball players on the planet in their two-time All-Star point guard.
Who cares they're about to face swift elimination at the hands of LeBron James? Short of the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors, no team in the Association seems to be in a better spot moving forward than the Celtics.
Just as every dark cloud has a silver lining, though, nothing good in this world is pure. The Celtics, for all their forward momentum, have an Isaiah Thomas problem.
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It would be a step too far to say the Celtics can't win a title with Isaiah Thomas as their starting point guard, or even their best player.
Unorthodox rosters have won championships before, most recently with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 — the same Mavericks team that beat LeBron James.
So yes, you can win a ring with Thomas as your star, but you have to be perfect.
Your roster has to cover up all his glaring postseason flaws, most notably his struggles defending bigger point guards and opponents' tendency to attack him over and over.
You need a second guard to defend both backcourt positions, a center who destroys opponent pick-and-rolls and sets bone-breaking screens, shooters to space the floor, and a team defensive scheme that figures out a way to slow James and the Cavaliers.
And you have to execute your game plan to perfection on every time down the court, with no lulls. Mix in a dash of luck, and you've got a champion on your hands — maybe.
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But nothing goes perfectly in the NBA — not for the superteams, and not for those clamoring to join them in the championship hunt.
True title contenders need a little bit of wiggle room. That's why the Cavaliers have a thousand redundant wings, and in part why the Warriors added Kevin Durant to their stacked roster, just in case they faced serious injury.
Thomas offers no such flexibility. You can win a lot of games with him leading the way, but a championship comes only with exacting precision.
Building a contender around Thomas is difficult enough at his current $6.6 million price point, and he's just about due for a massive pay raise.
He'll want a full five-year, max contract from the Celtics. Anyone envisioning some sort of discount is deluding themselves. Thomas might love his team, but he was the 60th overall pick and barely scratched the surface of the NBA's massive coffers on his most recent deal.
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The two-time All-Star is going to get paid in the 2018 offseason, yet a max deal would hamstring Boston.
Danny Ainge is ready to reap the rewards of his absolute fleecing of the Brooklyn Nets. Jaylen Brown, this year's No. 1 pick (assumed to be Markelle Fultz), and next year's unprotected Nets first-rounder are the real core for the Celtics.
Thomas and Al Horford, on the other hand, are placeholders. They're fine basketball players who were meant to bridge the gap between Boston's post-trade era and its potentially glorious future, a future approaching with increasing speed.
What happens when your present collides headlong with your future?
Thomas is already saying all the right things about playing with Fultz, and the two should be able to co-exist thanks to the presumptive No. 1 pick's stature and court vision. Thomas is more of a score-first guard, after all:
"He asks questions; I answer them," Thomas told ESPN. "He's a good friend of mine. If it happens, we'll figure out how to play together. If not, we'll go from there."
But no matter how successful they are, they won't stand a chance against LeBron James and the Cavaliers — mostly because the Celtics don't want to compete with Cleveland.
Ainge is content waiting for The King's reign to end, which is why he's not even considering flipping this No. 1 pick for someone like Paul George or Jimmy Butler.
His approach makes rational sense, on some level, but it leaves a sour taste. The whole point of sport is competition.
Deciding to roll over in the face of superiority goes against everything we hold dear, all while wasting Thomas' prime for a theoretical shot at a championship down the line.
Good for the Celtics, I guess, but you have to feel for Thomas as he watches his team pass on opportunities to get better right now because there's some larger plan.
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And therin lies the cruel truth of the matter for the Celtics — Thomas isn't part of those long-term plans. He was a tool Boston used to keep butts in seats during the rebuild, an incredible player who fell into their laps through the incompetence of another team.
So when that contractual day of reckoning comes for the Celtics and their star point guard, what do you do? Do you let him walk for nothing, telling Boston fans to trust that letting a fan favorite leave is for the best?
Do you trade him — knowing full well the rest of the league is aware of his flaws?
Or do you bite the bullet, give him the contract he wants, and hope for the best?
There is no easy answer for the Celtics. One way or the other, there will be heartache.
But hey, congratulations on that No. 1 pick. It should be the start of a new era in Boston — once LeBron decides the Celtics can have their turn.