As he continues to work his way back from the hip injury that’s kept him on the shelf since May, Isaiah Thomas has entered the storytelling business. And he’s got a pretty good idea of how he’d like the current chapter in his ongoing saga to end.
The Players Tribune on Thursday launched the first episode of “The Book of Isaiah,” a web series documenting a whirlwind few months in the two-time All-Star point guard’s life. The project promises an insider’s view of how Thomas dealt with the tragic death of his younger sister, his return to the Boston Celtics in the thick of the playoffs, the hip injury that ended the best season of his life prematurely, and the blockbuster trade that blindsided him and sent him to the Cleveland Cavaliers — an unvarnished look at how Thomas processed and moved through what he says was simultaneously the best and worst year of his life.
Thomas chatted with Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports about the new series, about his work toward a comeback to the court that he and the Cavs hope might come by the end of December, and some other topics. One of them, you’ll be shocked to learn, is the state of Thomas’ former team — now 14-2 and riding a 14-game winning streak after a thrilling comeback win over the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors that has at least some observers pegging Boston, not Cleveland, as the new favorites in the East — and the prospect of the C’s and Cavs crossing paths come May:
Q: Does it make it more fun if you guys clash with the Celtics in the conference finals and you’re taking care of them on the way to Finals?
A: “Oh, that would be lovely. That would be the story that God made, and it probably will work that way. It always does. It always works — I’m not going to say in my favor, but it seems to always work out, no matter what the circumstance is. That would be a special moment. If they make it there, and we make it there, and then we clash, and then you never know what’s going to happen. But I’ll be ready for whatever happens.”
It’s unsurprising, of course, that Thomas would look forward to the opportunity to kick the Celtics’ collective hind parts in the playoffs.
In an open letter to Celtics fans after the trade was (at long last) finalized, Thomas made it clear that the deal hurt him deeply, though he claimed “no hard feelings” after this particular “business move,” even if he (obviously) didn’t agree with it. In an interview last month with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, though, Thomas made it clear that, while he’ll always appreciate the city of Boston and the Celtics organization for the opportunities they gave him, he’s going to have a much harder time squaring things with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who both traded for him and traded him away:
“Boston is going to be all love,” he vows, with one exception. “I might not ever talk to Danny again. 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.”
That reckoning doesn’t feel like it’s coming right now. Thomas still yet to suit up for a Cleveland team scuffling at 8-7 with the NBA’s worst defense and LeBron James shouldering the NBA’s largest workload. The Celtics, on the other hand, soar atop the conference with a combination of depth, playmaking, youth, shooting and defensive versatility — even without Gordon Hayward — that has them looking built to last.
It’s impossible to judge the trade this early. But even if Thomas comes back at 100 percent, firing on all cylinders and providing the scoring and playmaking boost that he and LeBron envision, there’s reason to think that the Celtics have put themselves in better position by trading him and reorganizing their team than they might have by keeping him and having to face the question of whether or not to pay him max-salaried money this summer. It’s not unreasonable to think that Isaiah is great, and that he could be great in Cleveland, and to still think that the Celtics made the right choice to shake things up when they did, and how they did.
Thomas, however, isn’t trying to hear all that. His job isn’t to gotta-hear-both-sides the question of whether or not Ainge and Boston’s brass made a wise decision, all things considered. It’s to take the Celtics’ decision to bank its future on a point guard that isn’t him — the latest in a long, long line of slights that the scoring savant has turned into fuel to propel his ascent — and transform it, alchemy-like, into vengeance wrought on the hardwood.
This is what he has always done, and it’s what he intends to do to give this crazy year the kind of ending worth documenting. More from Amick:
“This is what I live for. I mean like I said, this is my story. This is just what it is, and I take every bump in the road and I turn it into a positive. I’ve always, no matter what the circumstance has been, I turned every situation I’ve been in into something that nobody ever thought it would be. And this is just another step in that direction. Once I come back, yeah it’s going to be an adjustment period. But anybody in this situation is going to be an adjustment time. Like, I’m playing with arguably the best player in the world (in James), and it’s like, ‘We’re both students of the game … and we’ve both been playing this game our whole lives.’ […]
“It’s just set up so perfect. All the other stuff that people talk about — the free agency; am I going to be able to come back and be the same player? Like, I’m not worried about that.
“I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited to be able to be on this stage playing and battling with the best player in the world. Like, I’ve never had that experience. I’m excited to be able to have a legitimate chance of winning a championship. I’ve never had that, I mean other than going to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. But I’m ready for all that, and I’m preparing right now for all of that, and I can’t wait.”
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