With the NBA trade season is in full swing, here’s why the Boston Celtics should consider parting ways with their All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
Since arriving in Beantown, Isaiah Thomas has transformed himself from a scrappy, points-off-the-bench journeyman into a team leader, elite scorer, two-time All-Star and a name whispered among potential MVP candidates. But is it already time to say goodbye?
There is no doubt that IT has been the talisman for a Boston Celtics franchise that has returned to relevance from a rebuild much quicker than anyone expected. Thomas is second in the league in scoring, has pushed Boston into the Eastern Conference’s 2-seed, is firmly established as a favorite among one of the most passionate fan-bases around and is putting up bigger numbers than Allen Iverson was at the same age.
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So why would the Celtics even consider parting ways with him?
Right now, Thomas’ stock is probably the highest it will ever be as an extraordinary player on the cusp of his athletic peak. If general manager Danny Ainge were to move him now, he would be able to command a much greater return than at any point in the 5’9″ guard’s past and future career.
The Celtics’ front office need to seriously consider their goals and their ceiling with this current roster. Are they really capable of dethroning the Cleveland Cavaliers from the top of the Eastern Conference – irrespective of how much depth LeBron James believes his roster lacks?
While Isaiah’s potent scoring is what allows the C’s to stay in so many games (and get some wins), his defense is inefficient and a direct cause for the team’s reliance on his offensive production.
Yes, he leads the league in fourth quarter points (10.7 per game), but the Celtics are better with him off the floor than on it (although only by half a point per 100 possessions). And, per NBA.com, their league-leading 29 points per fourth quarter are significantly undermined by their fifth worst points allowed (27.6). What’s more is that his net rating among all NBA starters is a mere +3.7, which is only good enough for 87th overall.
Why Is This Even A Consideration?
Three words: The. Brooklyn. Nets. It is very rare that a franchise has nothing to play for. Even tanking is, at least, with the desire to get a better rookie in the next draft. The Nets’ continued descent is of course fantastic for the Celtics, who hold the rights to Brooklyn’s 2017 pick among their plethora of assets.
And this is where a catch-22 lies. Unless Ainge trades the pick (and, if he does, it would need to be for a huge return) the Celtics will likely find themselves with a top-three pick (with the best odds at No. 1 right now) this June. Had this been any of the other drafts in recent years, this wouldn’t be an issue. But this year’s reportedly stacked draft class is loaded with point guards.
Thomas’ presence means the franchise faces a difficult choice: stick with their existing star, or gamble on a new, potentially greater one. As impressive as his performances have been, and despite Ainge having previously gone on the record that he’d wanted IT for a long time, it wouldn’t be the first time draft night hasn’t gone in his favor.
Right now, Isaiah’s contract is one of the best value deals in the league (for the franchise, anyway), costing just over $6.5 million this year and $6.3 million next season. That deal makes Stephen Curry’s look expensive!
In two years’ time he will become an unrestricted free agent, set for a monumental pay day and this deal will coincide with the season in which Thomas turns the dreaded 30 years old.
Does Ainge really want to pay out big bucks for Thomas through when he’s 34? Surely it would make sense to cash in on him now while his stock his high and before his trade value plummets next season with impending free agency – irrespective of the upset it would cause among fans.
Of course, the Celtics are currently hot on the heels of the Cavs for the top seed in the East. Trading away their biggest star for an unknown rookie entity is huge risk. Let’s face it, as jaw-dropping and impactful as Karl-Anthony Towns’ debut was last season, in which the Timberwolves improved by 13 games, it’s not been enough to lift the franchise from the doldrums of the NBA. Would anyone in this year’s class be as effective as Towns?
The current general consensus/hope is that Ainge will try to make a move for another star and there have been a number of names linked to Celtics trade rumours. Paul George, Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap, to name but a few, could all be available at the right price and could push into contention with the Cleveland.
Fortunately for Ainge, it’s a good problem to have. He has both movable contracts and a multitude of upcoming draft picks available at his disposal, as well as sufficient cap space to make a run at another high profile free agent in the summer.
The options available to the Celtics are plentiful and the moves they end making (or not making) will define the franchises immediate and long-term future. So the real question is, do the Celtics believe they have a shot at dethroning the Cavs with IT leading the way? Or is it time to cash out and play the long game?