BOSTON (CBS) — Isaiah Thomas’ 2016-17 season ended a little bit earlier than the rest of his Celtics’ teammates, giving him some added time to reflect on his incredible campaign.
While it was a career year on the floor, it was one of Thomas’ hardest off of it.
“It’s been the best season of my career,” Thomas told reporters as the C’s packed up on Friday. “But also, as you guys know, the toughest year of my life.”
Thomas averaged a career-high 28.9 points per game and helped lead the Celtics to a 53-win regular season. The 9.8 points he averaged in the fourth quarter earned him a nightly spot in highlights everywhere, a cool Game of Thrones-themed nickname and a seat at the table as a potential MVP candidate for a good stretch of the season.
He made his second All-Star team, flirting with a starting spot, earned a spot on the All-NBA second team — the first All-NBA honors of his career — and provided even more in the playoffs as he helped the Celtics advance in the postseason for the first time since 2012. Thomas poured in 53 points in a thrilling Game 2 win over the Wizards in the second round, and his 29 points in a deciding Game 7 helped Boston get to the Eastern Conference Finals, the biggest stage he’s ever played on.
He did all of that with a heavy heart after his younger sister, Chyna, died in a car accident one day before the playoffs began. Thomas juggled his emotions and the task at hand and didn’t miss a single contest, flying back home to Washington when Boston’s first-round series against the Bulls shifted to Chicago. In the team’s one day off between the first and second round, Thomas flew from Chicago to Washington for Chyna’s funeral, gave a heartfelt eulogy and then made the long trek to Boston for Game 1 against the Wizards. The night of his epic 53-point game would have been Chyna’s 23rd birthday.
If the emotional toll wasn’t enough for the 5-foot-9 Thomas, he also battled injuries throughout the playoffs. He lost a tooth in Game 1 against Washington on a collision in the first quarter but shook it off and scored 33 points in Boston’s comeback win. He spent nearly 10 hours in the dentist chair over the next two days, then went out and put up 53 points. He injured his hip back in March, an ailment that he re-aggravated in Game 6 against the Wizards. He battled until he couldn’t battle anymore, and his postseason came to an end at halftime of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals despite Thomas’ pleas to let him play.
Thomas has seen a few different specialists about his hip, and is waiting for the swelling to go down before making a decision on surgery. That will take about 4-6 weeks.
“It’s not the No. 1 option right now, but it could be once the swelling goes down,” said Thomas. “They want to let it die down a little bit then take another MRI once everything is down and it’s back to normal. We’ll go from there. Hopefully I don’t have to have surgery, but I know that is an option.”
Surgery or not, Thomas is confident that he will return to his MVP level of last season when he next hits the floor.
“Whatever they have to do to continue to play at, not just a normal level, at an MVP level, that’s what I’ve been on them doctors about and everybody on that training staff,” he said. “No matter what happens, let’s make sure I come back even better. And I will.”
As much as Thomas captivated Boston fans last season, his future with the franchise is somewhat unclear. He’s signed for one more season at $6.2 million, an absolute steal for one of the NBA’s best scorers, and has said he’ll seek a max contract when he becomes a free agent (or as he termed it, a “Brinks Truck”). Whether that deal will come from the Celtics is the big question, as the C’s own the No. 1 overall pick and a plethora of young guards already on their roster. Thomas and Markelle Fultz, the projected first pick in next month’s draft, should be able to succeed in the same backcourt, but the Celtics will have to make a decision on “The Little Guy” sooner rather than later.
Thomas hopes to continue his career in Boston, but understands the business side of the NBA.
“Boston has changed my career, changed my life. I’d love to be here long-term and win championships here. But as you guys know it’s a business and anything can happen,” he said. “I know that and I understand that. But I would love to be here. This has been everything to me. This city, this organization.”