For the past three years, the Cavs have been the team ruling the East led by King James. At age 32, King James’ dominance has been unprecedented. We’ve never seen an athlete continue to perform at the peak of his game with the mileage that James has accumulated since being proclaimed “The Chosen One.” That being said, the Celtics have been slowly gaining ground on the Cavs over the past few years with smart trades, accumulation of draft picks and a rising coaching stud in Brad Stevens.
Everything seems to be on track for the Celtics to reclaim their glory of being a top team in the league, except one thing…. Isaiah Thomas. Last season, Isaiah Thomas proved that he’s a legitimate MVP caliber player. Ever since being drafted as the last pick in the 2011 draft by the Sacramento Kings, IT4 has been proving doubters wrong. Despite his incredibly small size in a league filled with giants, Thomas has become a legitimate top tier scorer and leader. Some might argue that Thomas is the best player under six feet tall in league history.
But at age 28 and recently undergoing serious hip surgery, Isaiah Thomas just doesn’t fit within the Celtics’ long-term plans for the future. Signing Thomas to a new five-year max deal would be a mistake. And I think Danny Ainge (Celtics’ GM) knows that. Coming off of hip surgery, we just don’t know how Isaiah will bounce back. So much of his game relies on quick and acrobatic moves to the rim, and I just don’t think he’ll be able to maintain that type of play especially as he approaches his 30s.
Another factor to consider is that the Celtics traded their first overall pick for the third overall pick in 2017, a 2018 first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers and a 2019 protected first-round pick from the Sacramento Kings. With many draft boards indicating that Lonzo Ball will fall to number three, the Celtics are positioned to select possibly the draft’s top play maker. A true knock on Isaiah’s entire career is that he isn’t a “true” point guard. Despite his size, IT4 plays actually more like a shooting guard, but is limited on the defensive end to only being able to guard point guards.
Thus, with Ball’s size at 6’6” and his incredible passing abilities, he fits better within Boston’s core. Plus, Ball provides them with a cheaper alternative to save the Celtics salary cap space for signing a player like Gordon Hayward and any other marquee free agents that they’ll be able to attract in the next few years.
Instead of losing Thomas for nothing in free agency in the summer of 2018, the Celtics should be actively looking to trade him. Coming off the best season of his career, Thomas’ trade value is extremely high. A team in desperate need of star power and a point guard will likely give up enticing assets for Thomas. The Celtics don’t necessarily need to trade Thomas for a star player. Accumulating additional draft picks or young, promising talent might be better for their current situation.
A couple of different trade scenarios that I would consider if I were Danny Ainge, is trading Thomas for the Knick’s eighth pick in this year’s draft and Willy Hernangomez, a promising young center or trading Thomas to the Kings for either their fifth pick in this year’s draft or a package of the tenth pick and Willie Cauley-Stein.
With Ainge’s track record of seeing the value of trading star players approaching the decline of their careers (i.e. trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets in 2013 for young assets and high drafts picks), I believe Thomas will be traded rather than the Celtics extending a max offer to him… and without a doubt it would be a smart decision.