BOSTON (CBS) — The blockbuster swap between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers was in danger of being called off because of Isaiah Thomas’ hip.
It took a week after the trade was announced for the deal to be finalized, sending Kyrie Irving to Boston and Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first-round pick to Cleveland, as the Cavaliers wanted a little bit more given Thomas’ injury. In the end, the messy situation ended with the Celtics adding a second-round pick, which isn’t a whole lot if Cleveland was looking for more.
So everyone is now wondering when Thomas will be back from the injury that cost him the final games of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals loss against the Cavaliers a few months ago. The Cavaliers traded away their star point guard knowing that Thomas was going to be sidelined for a good chunk of the season, but on Thursday, as they introduced their new stars in Cleveland, the team had no desire to discuss the topic.
“To be fair to Isaiah, were not going to address any specifics of the hip injury or place any timetable on his return. We’re not going to rush it, at all,” said Cleveland GM Koby Altman. “The goal is to bring him back at some point this year and to be healthy, to compete and be back at peak IT status.”
Altman said there is a plan in place, but he wouldn’t discuss that, either. Thomas started his introductory press conference by telling reporters that he’s doing work in the weight room and receiving treatment every day, and is confident he’ll be back at 100 percent in the near future.
As he did in a Player’s Tribune article on Wednesday, Thomas said the blockbuster came as a big shock to him.
“It was surprising; it caught me off of guard. But it also woke me up and made me realize that this is a business, and everyone other than probably LeBron James and Kevin Durant can be traded,” said Thomas, donning in a Cavaliers’ maroon sports coat. “I prayed on it, I thought about it and slept on it. I’m thankful for this opportunity, and blessed to be traded to a situation where we can win a championship next season.”
Thomas said the transition for his family, especially his two young sons, is the hardest part of the trade. He’s disappointed that he won’t get the chance to build something in Boston along with Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, two players he courted when they hit free agency. He said he helped build what the Celtics are at the moment, but is excited for the opportunity in Cleveland, playing alongside the best player in the world in LeBron James.
“The ball is the same and the hoop is the same. To be in this organization and compete, it’s what I’m excited about,” he said.
The narrative now is that Thomas is damaged goods, and will never play to the level he did in Boston last season, when he averaged nearly 30 points per game and finished fifth in NBA MVP voting.
“That’s been my story and I’m fine with it,” Thomas smirked. “I averaged 29 a game and they still are going to talk. I could be MVP and they’d still say something is wrong with my game. That’s fine, I accept that. I’m going to keep using it as motivation to keep fighting, keep grinding, to do whatever it takes to win a championship. That’s been my mindset since Day 1. When it comes to basketball, my mindset doesn’t change no matter where I’m at. … It’s what I’ve had to fight through my entire career, and I’m going to continue to fight until my career is over.”
Thomas thanked Boston fans in his Player’s Tribune piece, and said on Thursday that he hopes to form a similar relationship with the Cleveland faithful. He wants Boston fans to remember him for who he was off the court, and not just all those baskets he scored while transforming the organization from a rebuilding team into a contender.
“I think that’s bigger than being a legend on the court, is how you’re remembered as a person, respecting everybody no matter who they are,” said Thomas. “That relationship I had with the fan base [in Boston], I want to build that here in Cleveland. I want them to know that I’m coming here and putting on my hard hat each day, giving it my all until the end.
“We’re expecting to win, and I’m expecting to win a championship here,” added Thomas.
There’s no doubt that Thomas still has that fire, and the doubters pointing to his hip injury will just add to his bank of motivation. Now the only question is whether or not the hip will let him, a question the Cavaliers don’t want to answer at the moment.