INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – It was only fitting that the introductory press conference for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic being introduced as Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t go quite as planned.
But just like the trade eventually getting done after some pretty tense moments, the players eventually showed up together (Jae Crowder’s flight was delayed) and said all the right things in their first official appearance as Cleveland Cavaliers.
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In addition to the players, the press conference also included Cavs general manager Koby Altman and coach (and former Celtics assistant) Tyronn Lue.
“It’s a great day for our franchise, adding these players to our team,” Altman said.
And while Thomas has acknowledged since the trade that he will miss Boston and its fan base dearly, he said he's also looking forward to playing with LeBron James.
“I’m excited to play with the best player in the world,” Thomas said. “I’ve been in situations before where things were tough, but we just kept fighting and worked for what we had. Being put in this situation on the court is everything. To play with the best player in the world, to play with a guy like Kevin Love and J.R. Smith and Derrick Rose and be coached by a guy like Tyronn Lue, who played in this league a long time, it’s like...a match made in heaven.”
The two teams came to an agreement on Aug. 22 to trade Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Thomas, Crowder, Zizic and a 2018 unprotected first-round pick from Brooklyn, pending physicals.
Thomas suffered a hip injury last season that sidelined him for Boston’s final three playoff games against the Cavs and has yet to fully heal.
Danny Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations, said on a conference call shortly after the trade that Thomas might miss “some” time this season and added that his hip injury did play a role in the decision to trade him.
After the Cavs brought Thomas in for a physical, their doctors were concerned that he would miss more games than they had anticipated. Because of that, they felt they were due additional compensation from the Celtics in the form of a first-round pick.
Boston initially balked at the idea of giving more compensation.
Eventually, the two teams reached a compromise on Aug. 31 with Boston providing a 2020 second-round pick from Miami.
Altman declined to get into specifics regarding Thomas’ hip injury or a timeline for his return, but did indicate that the approach to dealing with Thomas’ injury is “a non-surgical plan.”
Thomas led all scorers in the Eastern Conference last season, averaging a career-high 28.9 points per game.
It was good enough to land him a spot on the All-Star team for the second consecutive season as well as a spot on the All-NBA second team.
Crowder is coming off a season in which he set several career highs with the Celtics, including minutes played (32.4), field-goal percentage (.463), 3-point percentage (.398), rebounds (5.8) and assists (2.2).
Zizic, drafted by the Celtics with the No. 23 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, is a high energy 7-footer who showed significant promise overseas while playing under former Cavs coach and Framingham, Mass., native David Blatt.
While the players were embracing their new team for the first time publicly, there’s no mistaking the impact Crowder and Thomas – Thomas specifically – made on Boston and his former coach Brad Stevens.
“What Isaiah did was special; Isaiah’s impact was special,” Stevens told CSN’s Kyle Draper. “I love Isaiah and he’ll always have that here; he’ll always have an impact in Boston that way. That’s the really hard part about this from a player or coaches’ perspective. With any change there’s an emotional cost attached; that’s a pretty significant emotional cost. I look forward to seeing him; not on the court, not against him because he’s a dynamite player. But I’m happy to have had a chance to work with him.
Stevens added, “Isaiah will always be special to me.”
The feeling goes both ways.
“That’s a guy that’s been in my corner since Day One,” Thomas said. “That’s a guy that allowed me to be great, and love me for who I was. He’s a special person in my life.”