Much like the Celtics were staring down the impending free agency of Avery Bradley, they will soon find themselves addressing another elephant in the room: Isaiah Thomas’s demands. There has been some speculation that Thomas would be willing to negotiate a deal that is lucrative for himself, but still beneficial for the Celtics building process. Let’s address that speculation right now.
“I’m a max guy, so I deserve the max,” said Thomas in an interview with CSNNE’s A. Sherrod Blakely. This is not a quote taken wildly out of context, as Thomas doubled down by saying “My time is coming, they know they’ve got to bring the Brinks truck.” If you want to make the assertion that he’s talking max money and not max years on the contract then, by all means, interpret it how you will, but I’m not sensing much of a willingness to negotiate.
Something that gets lost in the discussion and speculation of potential contracts is the fact that the NBA is a business, a thought that still stings Celtics fans as why try to imagine what Avery Bradley will look like in a Pistons jersey. No matter your opinion of Bradley’s talent, no matter the evaluation of his stats, and no matter his popularity as a player, the bottom line was that a deal needed to be made in order to create space for Gordon Hayward. In the instance of Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics would not need to make such a move as they can offer him the max with his Bird Rights - a provision that allows teams to re-sign players while exceeding the salary cap so long as that player has been on the team for 3 years. The question most often asked is, “is he worth it?”, but the more important question might be “can the Celtics afford it?”. Either way, the answer to both questions is ‘yes’.
Thomas, who finished fifth in MVP voting, is still a divisive player due mainly to his height and more recently, his hip injury. Long gone are the days where Allen Iverson, generously listed at six feet tall, could sustain injury after injury and be commended for his durability. Now, we sit and wonder if one hip injury is about to derail Thomas’s entire career. I get it, making decisions is scary sometimes, but should the fear of having the next Gilbert Arenas or Brandon Roy situation really handcuff a team from making their best attempt at contending? Even with Arenas and company in recent memory, we still have the luxury of having Thomas under contract for one more season before any negotiation to see how his hip holds up.
I won’t tell you what to believe. I won’t bother reminding you for the thousandth time that Isaiah has improved every year of his career. I also won’t remind you, with a pile of statistics, that he had an unbelievable offensive season. I will also refrain from reminding you that nobody knows how ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus metric, which is used as grounds to trash Thomas as a true star, is calculated. I certainly wouldn’t state, again, that a 5’9” player led his team to the Conference Finals. Nope, not me. I wouldn’t bring those things up because, you know, the NBA is a business, where business decisions are made.
Consider the following. The worst case scenario is that the Celtics max Isaiah and he falls off like a rock. If that happens, the Celtics are still competitive, to some degree, and Isaiah is still there as a fan favorite. He’ll still fill the seats of the Garden, have everyone on the edge of said seats, and point to his wrist after a clutch shot. Barring an absolute catastrophe, the cult of Isaiah (which sounds eerily biblical) will live on. Now, imagine a world where all of these conditions are met except Isaiah doesn’t fall off like a rock. Life is pretty good, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m betting on Isaiah to stay in shape, adapt his game as he ages, and be a relevant piece on a contending team, because why wouldn’t I? The bottom line is that the money works, and Isaiah Thomas is a winner. I’ll drive the Brinks truck myself.