BOSTON (CBS) — Isaiah Thomas has been cast aside before.
He was the final pick of the 2011 draft. He had been traded twice heading into the summer of 2017, the final year of a bargain contract he signed with the Phoenix Suns in 2015 before they shipped him to Boston for next to nothing just a few months later.
But none of that could prepare Thomas for the blockbuster trade Danny Ainge completed with the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer, sending Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets draft pick for Kyrie Irving. It shocked the NBA world, and left Thomas stunned.
“None of it made any sense,” Thomas told SI’s Lee Jenkins of the swap. “It still doesn’t make any sense. I’m still asking, ‘What the hell happened?’ It’s a trade you make in NBA2K. It’s not a trade you make in real life.”
Thomas was an immediate force for the Celtics when he arrived in February of 2015 and he quickly turned into the face of the franchise. Fans fell in love with his all-in attitude and fourth quarter scoring prowess, giving the team a win-now feel while they were still building for the future.
That future is now in the hands of Irving, and Thomas is in Cleveland, recovering from a hip injury that will keep him out until at least mid-season. When he was cast aside by the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, a vow of revenge followed. That is not the case with the Celtics though, and Thomas’ love for the city of Boston will never go away. He’ll be showered with cheers whenever he next steps on the TD Garden floor, and he will no doubt extend a wave of gratitude for all the support he received over his three years in green.
That gesture will be a little different for one man: Ainge. The man who traded Thomas just months after he put the team on his shoulders despite a badly injured hip, which Thomas said he shouldn’t have played on. The man who traded Thomas after he played in Boston’s postseason opener just one day after his 23-year-old sister died in a car accident in Washington.
“I might not ever talk to Danny again. That might not happen. I’ll talk to everybody else. But what he did, knowing everything I went through, you don’t do that, bro. That’s not right,” said Thomas. “I’m not saying eff you. But every team in this situation comes out a year or two later and says, ‘We made a mistake.’ That’s what they’ll say, too.”
It sounds like Thomas may be hitting eBay for one of those “I Hate Danny Ainge” t-shirts in the near future. Though he’s happy to now be a Cavalier, it’s clear that Thomas will always wonder what could have been with the Celtics.
“I felt like I was building my own thing in Boston and we were close,” he said. “We were so close! Dang! That’s what hurts. We went from the lottery to the conference finals. We just got [Gordon] Hayward. We were right there. Think of all the national TV games we were about to have.”
As he put it, the trade concluded the “best year of my career, worst year of my life.”
Asked to respond to Thomas’ comments at the Celtics charity golf tournament on Wednesday, Ainge said he understands why his former players feels the way he does.
“That’s the hard part of the job. I know there’s a lot of feelings that go on when these types of things happen,” Ainge told reporters, according to The Boston Herald. “I understand his sentiments, but you guys know how much I love Isaiah. He’s a great kid and I wish him the best.”
Thomas now starts a new chapter to his career, vowing to be back better than ever. He’s fought for everything in his life, and isn’t about to stop.
“My career is a fight,” said Thomas, adding he’s only enter the middle rounds of that tussle and hopes to play until he’s 40. “I’m not a regular superstar where whatever happens, it’s all right. Every day is a fight. I need people who understand that fight.”
Though the trade still stings, Thomas is pretty excited to play on a team that’s been to three straight NBA Finals. With a ticket to the playoffs essentially already punched, the Cavaliers won’t rush Thomas back, knowing he’s much more valuable in April, May and June than in October and November. He’s also pretty pumped to play with LeBron James, knowing that No. 23’s presence means no more double and triple teams for his 5-foot-8 self.
In the end, it will likely come down to the Celtics and Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, providing even more fuel for Thomas’ fire.
“Boston is going to be good,” he said. “They’ve got really good players and a great coach. But it takes more than talent. They lost a lot of heart and soul.”