Anderson: Isaiah Thomas can't act like Danny Ainge's victim forever

Ty Anderson
October 12, 2017 - 7:20 pm

Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports

His personality alone told you that ex-Celtics leader Isaiah Thomas was probably never going to forgive Danny Ainge for trading him away from the Celtics and to the Cavaliers.

In fact, it’s the exact stance Thomas is going take to begin his post-Celtics days.

“I might not ever talk to Danny again,” Thomas, not expected to return to action before Christmas, admitted in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “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. 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.”

But deep down, Thomas -- even in the midst of an arduous rehabilitation process to get his battered hip healed and ready to go for his first season with the archrival Cavaliers -- has to know that Ainge could’ve sentenced him to a fate far worse than a contract year riding shotgun to the best player in the NBA and legit title contender, right?

In a summer that flipped the NBA landscape on its head, it’s not as if Ainge moved the 28-year-old Thomas to the modern-day basketball wastelands of Indiana or New York like those on the unfortunate ends of the Paul George and Carmelo Anthony trades. Thomas wasn’t sentenced to the irrelevancy of life (or is it death now that both Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade are out of the equation?) as a Chicago Bull in 2017.

Thomas would have a legit beef with Ainge if he was the pawn used to acquire Anthony Davis from the Pelicans, or shipped to Orlando or some other random NBA city if the Celtics and Cavaliers brought in a third team to properly facilitate an Irving trade.

But Thomas is in Cleveland and with the Cavs, the team that’s won the East three years in a row, and with LeBron effing James. His old AAU teammate, Kevin Love, is still there, and their strong supporting cast remains in town. Thomas has essentially been given a two-round bye come playoff time. That’s something he didn’t even come close to having during his time with the Celtics, as last year’s opening two rounds of hell (a six-game series against the Bulls and seven-game war with the Wizards) showed you.

When healthy, Thomas will be thrust into a situation where he’s going to get even more open looks than he did in Boston, and will still be able to get paid (and handsomely) if his hip responds the way he believes that it will once he puts this recovery behind him.

He’ll still get his share of primetime games and moments and stages to shine on, too.

If he’s truly struggling in this new situation, perhaps he should give the Pistons’ Andre Drummond a call and find out what true hopelessness in the modern NBA looks like.

Still, It’s easy to understand why Thomas is still dealing with hurt feelings a month and a half after the trade that made him part of a five-piece package sent to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving. Thomas feels that he was a huge reason why the Celtics are where they are today, especially with free agent additions Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, and that he, not Irving, should be the centerpiece of that creation. This is absolutely nothing new.

And Thomas, the 5-foot-9 engine that runs on doubt and hate, is arguably the NBA’s most vengeful man. Warriors superstar and noted snake Kevin Durant apparently writes the criticism he receives on the insoles of his shoes, but Thomas wore it on his sleeve and then used it as the launch needed for his Garden-erupting drives to the basket.

When it seemed that the doubt Thomas experienced in the 2011 NBA Draft as the last pick and during runs with the Kings and Suns had finally escaped him after a year that saw him average the third-most points in the NBA, Thomas found a new fuel. It came when he tried to play at his newfound all-world level through a hip injury that left him absolutely smashed to bits. The Celtics knew the pain Thomas was in, too, and Thomas was quick to point out that Ainge knew ‘everything’ he was going through.

But harboring some sort of resentment towards Ainge for that is odd and misplaced.

The decision to play through all of that -- before they made the mercy call to shut him down for the postseason after Game 2 of a five-game East Finals loss to the Cavs, when it was clear that he was a shell of himself -- was a decision made by Thomas, not Ainge and the Celtics. He said it himself: Basketball was the escape from everything.

And the constant references to Brink’s trucks and inevitability that the C’s were going to have to sign him to a max deal, which is something that seemed to make Ainge laugh (but was often met with an internal ‘I wonder if he likes that?’) was all Thomas, too. The Celtics never came out and said that Thomas a lock for a max contract, and always seemed to keep their long-term options open. He was captaining his own ship in that regard, and the Celtics were never obligated to give him a direct answer just because he wanted one. 

His situation as an injured superstar entering a contract year has as much to do with Ainge as Kyrie’s unhappiness in Cleveland has to do with anybody besides LeBron.

This is a contract and medical situation that would be staring Thomas in the face in Boston, Cleveland, or anywhere else in the NBA.

And if it wasn’t going to be in Boston with the Celtics, which Ainge ultimately decided would not be the venue for Thomas’ rise from the ashes of this recovery, it would be hard for Ainge to put him in a better place to succeed than Cleveland as the No. 2 or No. 3 option behind two legit stars.

Thomas will ultimately realize this -- whether it’s after a championship, a max contract or potentially both -- and will for once be put in the situation where he is the one coming back to an old team and admitting it was he who made the mistake of thinking that Ainge was just another executive dumping him without a care for his future.

But that can’t happen until they talk. If they ever talk.

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