Last season, Isaiah Thomas didn’t only fill up the scoring column for the Boston Celtics, but he was the face of the franchise, embodying the grit and tenacity that his teammates seemed to rally behind.
Thomas also seemed to find a true home in Boston. Spending three years with the Sacramento Kings after being selected with the final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, he then spent half the season with the Phoenix Suns before getting traded to the Celtics during the 2014-2015 campaign. In each of the last two years, Boston has given him the full reigns of the offense, despite his diminutive 5’9” stature.
To add, Thomas experienced a tragic personal loss just before the playoffs started when his younger sister was killed in a car crash. Going back and forth between his family and his team, he didn’t miss a single playoff game in the process, which showed the extent that he was willing to go for the organization.
Therefore, when Danny Ainge traded Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer, it must have been a painstaking decision. Ainge verified that it was not only difficult, but the toughest call of his entire career so far.
"It was definitely the toughest call I ever had to make," Ainge told the Boston Globe. "It's in everybody's best interest that I don't share all the reasons [for the trade]. But the bottom line is obviously I felt like it was the right thing for our franchise to do. But it's a deep and complicated process. It's not as simple as people think it is.”
He continued, ”It's not easy for these office people that become great friends with the players. There's a reality that I see and that's what makes any sort of trade challenging. But it's just part of the world that we live in, but it's got to be done. You've got to do what's best for the franchise. The franchise is bigger than all of us. Bigger than one individual.”
Boston was, of course, able to land superstar Kyrie Irving in the deal and based on the fact that Thomas’ hip injury will keep him out for part of the upcoming season and that he has been vocal about demanding a max deal next summer, it is clear that Ainge put his personal feelings for Thomas aside. He had previously done that with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who he traded to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for a boatload of draft assets a handful of years ago.
"I would have been thrilled to let Paul and KG finish their careers as Boston Celtics and have then finish here," Ainge said. "I would have been fine with that. But we had an opportunity that came up that presented itself that we needed to do for the benefit of our fans, our franchise. It's not my franchise. It's not Paul's franchise. It's the city of Boston's franchise and that's my job to do what I think is best for the franchise. With ownership we work to make decisions that's best for the long-term benefit of our franchise.”
Like it or not, Boston is now poised to succeed and contend for a number of years ahead. While Ainge isn’t the sole reason for that, he’s certainly a large part of it.