As everyone who has tuned into ESPN or scrolled Twitter in the past six months knows by now — an introductory phrase I hate to use but is patently true in this situation — Isaiah Thomas was forced out of his cherished role as the Boston Celtics point guard after an incredibly emotional postseason.
After overcoming the tragic and sudden death of his sister to help lift the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals, Thomas then had to deal with his playoff run ending with a serious injury to his hip along with the heartbreak of a departure from the Celtics.
Thomas made it clear he wanted to stay as a member of the Celtics for understandable reasons after giving so much to the franchise and becoming a beloved player by fans of the team. General manager Danny Ainge took that opportunity away from Thomas when he was presented with the opportunity to morph the Celtics into a bonafide championship contender by adding Kyrie Irving in exchange for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets first round pick.
Suddenly, Thomas had turned from an emerging new hero in Boston to an expendable asset. An undersized point guard with a significant injury, Ainge was fully justified in his decision to send Thomas and a role player in Crowder to bring in an Olympian and truly elite point guard in Irving in an attempt to surpass the Cavs in the East.
Thomas has publicly expressed his side of the story throughout his rehab process and further since returning to game action for the Cavs. Now, the Thomas-Boston drama has reached its peak in a beef that may diminish the legacy of his great, albeit brief, run as the conquering hero of the Celtics and the anointed next legend of the franchise.
After declining a video tribute during the Cavs first visit to Boston this season due to still being injured, Thomas’ next visit to the Garden comes with quite the conflict that complicates the team’s ability to properly honor his three years with the Celtics.
The Celtics have that night booked to retire Paul Pierce’s number and Pierce doesn’t want to share that spotlight with Thomas, which created enough of a conflict that Thomas publicly announced he would once again decline the honor of a video tribute.
I'd like to thank the Celtics for their gracious offer to play a video tribute on Feb 11th celebrating my 3yrs in Boston. But since it appears this has caused some controversy w/ Paul Pierce's night I'd ask the Celtics instead to focus all of their attention on #34's career.
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) January 17, 2018
Now, there is a public feud between the Pierce Era Celtics and Thomas due to the brushback over Pierce’s complaints about sharing his night with Thomas. Both Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo came to Pierce’s defense this week and in doing so, provided some very harsh shade about Thomas’ place amongst the long list of legendary players to put on a Celtics uniform.
Garnett simply offered a dismissive ‘Isaiah Who.,’ while Rondo – who is still in the league and was in Boston with the New Orleans Pelicans this week – suggested Thomas may not deserve a video tribute since Thomas never won a championship with the decorated franchise.
— theScore (@theScore) January 17, 2018
Many have quickly decided to come to the defense of Isaiah homas here, but Garnett, Pierce and Rondo have a valid point. Thomas simply is not a legend of the stature necessary for the Boston Celtics going out of their way to honor beyond a nice token gesture to recognize his incredible efforts over two seasons.
On a franchise with as many legends as the Celtics and with a recent era of great success and great players, Thomas doesn’t stack up once you begin to compare legacies and contributions to the Celtics winning tradition. To say otherwise is allowing recency bias and empathy for Thomas’ raw deal in Boston to enter the debate.
In the pantheon of Celtics players, Thomas ranks in the category of Antoine Walker-type players who had a notable peak and provided defining moments despite a lack of championship. Unfortunately – on a franchise that has won as much as the Celtics and possesses a long list of players with superior legacies – those types of players fall a lot lower on the pecking order than they would in other cities and on other teams.
The unfortunate part of this story is the fact the Celtics and Thomas won’t have another opportunity to honor the highs and emotions of the past three seasons again in the 17/18 regular season. The Cavs don’t visit Boston again and it is highly unlikely either side would want to subject the other to a video tribute during the heated moments of a potential playoff series between the two teams.
A story that originally started due to unfortunate circumstances from two parties in an attempt to still honor Thomas despite the icy nature of the Kyrie Irving trade has turned into a beef between Celtics eras and a debate over legacies. It is an unfortunate further development in Thomas’ departure from Boston and is perhaps the one that will most hurt his legacy as there is no winning a beef with Rondo, Pierce and KG.
Comparing those legacies may be unfair, but it is true that Thomas doesn’t come close when you compare his run to any of the Celtics other notable eras.
Thomas will get his moment in Boston one day to recognize his contributions and the memories made during his emotional and dramatic 2017 season. True or not, Thomas deserves that moment for what he gave to the Celtics last spring. When that happens is up for debate and based on this past week, it could be a long time before Thomas is fully embraced by the Celtics like he was just a few short months ago.