By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’ve had a hot (I guess?) take brewing all season: With the Brinks truck broken down somewhere between Boston and Ohio, and officially sent to the junkyard in between Los Angeles and Denver, Isaiah Thomas is going to rejoin the Celtics in 2019.
The 30-year-old’s long-awaited visit to Boston on Monday, headlined by an emotional video tribute and Thomas rocking some Celtics-colored shoes in an otherwise nothin’ six-minute night, did nothing to sway me from this take.
In fact, it only reinforced it.
Before you laugh at this idea, let’s first agree that the C’s have as much certainty as Isaiah’s hip.
Their best player (and the man that replaced Thomas), Kyrie Irving, could bolt as a free agent this summer.
Trying to get a read on Irving’s intentions on that front has been impossible. And on more than one occasion this season, I’ve found myself channeling my inner Jim Halpert with a, “Say what you will about [Isaiah Thomas], but he would never do that” in regards to something Irving’s said or done as Boston’s leader. Anybody — insider, outsider, topsider — that tries to tell you that they know what Irving’s gonna do in July is talking out their ass.
Now, if Irving leaves, the Celtics do not suddenly gain the cap space needed to replace him with a Kemba Walker or another free agent jewel, meaning that barring another big trade, it would be a series of internal promotions or starter-by-committee at the No. 1. That would open the door for Thomas, who simply wants another opportunity to contribute more than anything else.
And if Irving stays, there’s a good chance the Celtics will strip their cupboard of its youth and picks on picks on picks to add Anthony Davis in attempt to form a new superteam (and keep Irving happy with his decision), leaving the Boston lineup (and bench) short some viable scorers. That would also open a door for Thomas.
Let’s just say the Celtics do sign Irving to a long-term deal that keeps him in Boston, too. Everybody’s happy, Uncle Drew 2 will be a Boston blockbuster, and all the cool colorways of the Kyries will still be just impossible to find at any area Foot Locker.
…There’s also absolutely no way Terry Rozier remains with the Celtics.
Rozier, a pending restricted free agent who is clearly a starting-level point guard in this league, has already battled through that frustration of returning to a backup role this season after shining in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, and it’s downright impossible to see him signing on for another year (not even one) of that life.
That would leave the Celtics with just Irving and Marcus Smart as traditional point guards, and with the latter not providing the consistent scoring punch that Rozier has delivered on Boston’s second unit and as an in-a-pinch starter.
Thomas, of course, wouldn’t be a horrendous replacement there.
It would be an upgrade from Thomas’ current role as the Pluto of Mike Malone’s Denver solar system, at the very least.
Especially if it meant that he would finally get to play with Gordon Hayward, a player that credited Thomas for the legwork of selling him on taking his talents to Boston over Utah and Miami back in 2017. (Thomas, a recruiter at every league event, was also a major factor in the Al Horford decision the previous summer.)
“[The trade with Cleveland] was a really strange moment because I’d really been looking forward to playing with [Thomas],” Hayward wrote on his website in 2017. “He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment.”
Assuming Hayward is never quite the same and this is who he is for the remainder of his Boston contract, you could do a lot worse than having a second unit featuring the potential of Thomas and Hayward developing that connection as reserve-killers.
Oh, and maybe I should mention that nobody found the way to maximize IT’s strengths and hide his weaknesses quite like Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Even with an uncertain hip, give me Stevens trying to guide Thomas’ game back on track over Malone, Ty Lue, and Luke Walton every single possession for the rest of our lives.
But more important than anything mentioned here? Thomas clearly wants to return to Boston.
He made it known last summer when he told Danny Ainge he would be interested in a reunion, and he was honestly as vocal as one can be without it being considered straight-up tampering during Denver’s visit to The Hub. He even played some pickup with Emerson College kids, including this chucker in the sweats. You don’t do that unless you love everything about this place.
“At some point,” Thomas said when asked about finishing his career in Boston. “These were the most fun times of my career. I turned into a superstar here. The world knew my name when I played for the Boston Celtics. Not saying they don’t now, but playing for the Celtics changed my whole career, on and off the floor.
“If I end up back here at some point, that would make the story that much better.”
Of course, much like the one on his hip, the scar from the trade out of Boston will always be there. But Isaiah’s love for the Celtics clearly remains. And with that love, so remains the hope that Thomas can still find a way to be part of a championship team in Boston.
Same for Thomas finding a suitable replacement for that Brinks truck: a green Duckboat.