Whenever this golden age in Boston sports ends, Isaiah Thomas will be an afterthought. That says more about this time in Boston sports than it does about Isaiah Thomas.
Often times, cities are lucky to have one or two star players between all of their professional sports teams. They’re typically acquired by drafting the player high, giving them a boatload of money in free agency, or trading a ton to get them.
Thomas was none of those. He was the last pick of his draft and was traded from his second team to the Celtics for a mediocre package, because his stock to that point was mediocre.
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There’s a common attitude for professional athletes who were in Thomas’ place. When players reach the pros but have not yet become stars, or even starters, at least part of them laments the lack of opportunity. If only someone gave them the keys, they’d blossom.
That’s easier said than done and pro sports are littered with guys who were given the opportunity and didn’t take it. Not Thomas. He went from Sixth Man of the Year runner-up in 2014-15 to a starter the next season. It was in that season that he earned the first of his two consecutive All-Star reserve honors.
Most importantly, he served as the star Boston would use to recruit other stars (and eventually, be traded for the biggest star Boston has had since the Brooklyn trade). Without Isaiah Thomas, perhaps Al Horford signs somewhere else. All the love in Gordon Hayward’s heart for Brad Stevens might not have been enough to land Hayward had there not been a strong group of players in place. Credit Thomas for that.
And while Thomas improved from year to year, it still took time for opposing GMs to fully buy in. Remember, Jackie MacMullan has said Danny Ainge tried to trade Thomas for a lottery pick at the 2016 draft but had no takers. One year later, Thomas is part of a package that netted one of the best players in the league in Kyrie Irving.
So that’s the good news. The bad news is that the guy who did all that stuff for the Celtics just got dumped to the Cavaliers. People forget that Thomas is short (he is; swear to God, look it up) and was drafted last, so now a guy who has learned he is plenty capable of proving people wrong can now make the Celtics his next target. God, these C’s-Cavs games are going to rule.
You need about nine Mount Rushmores to properly give the last 16 years of Boston sports their due. Thomas isn’t on the first one, or the second, or the third. Yet he wasn’t expected to be on any of them. He was just the guy for whom the C’s traded Marcus Thornton and what would become the 28th overall pick.
When Wyc Grousbeck said “fireworks” in 2014, Isaiah Thomas was the last person anybody could have had in mind. On Tuesday, those fireworks finally came, and they did so as a result of what was at the time a minor trade. Credit Danny Ainge for having the foresight to believe Thomas was capable of getting better. Credit Thomas for being better than any of us could have expected.