The Boston Celtics entered the offseason with a top pick in the NBA draft after reaching the Eastern Conference finals, and they added All-Star forward Gordon Hayward in free agency, so optimism was running high for the C’s, especially as the Cleveland Cavaliers devolved into chaos this summer.
But one lingering issue lay dormant through it all: Isaiah Thomas’ season-ending hip injury. After months of speculation, that situation also resulted in reason for optimism, as The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach reported the All-Star point guard, barring a setback, will not require surgery.
“Isaiah is making good progress,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Wednesday. “He’s out on the court; he’s shooting. He’s full-speed ahead on the stationary bike and working in the swimming pool. He’s progressing nicely.”
The Celtics shut Thomas down after he left Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals with an injury the team termed a “re-aggravation of a right femoral-acetabular impingement with labral tear.” He initially suffered the injury during a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in mid-March, missing a pair of games as a result, and then re-aggravated the hip in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals — before battling his way to 29 points and 12 assists in a Game 7 victory against the Washington Wizards.
Thomas struggled through the first three quarters of the conference finals, including an 0-for-6 effort early in Game 2, before doctors finally forced him to sit out the remainder of the season. It was an unfortunate finish to the Second Team All-NBA performer’s emotional and scintillating playoff run.
Given the history of hip labrum tears, which claimed the career of fellow undersized point guard and former lottery pick Jonny Flynn, that phrase left an uneasiness around the 27-year-old Thomas’ future. He reassured reporters at his exit interview in May that surgery wasn’t “the No. 1 option right now,” his hip has always been “a little different my whole life,” and, “I have an extra bone or something,” but that did little to assuage concerns that the dynamic 5-foot-9 star had taken one too many hits.
After the season, Ainge told Boston sports radio’s “Toucher and Rich” that they were waiting until the swelling subsided and seeking additional medical opinions before deciding whether surgery was necessary. A month later, Ainge said Thomas was feeling “much better” and the team expected him to be ready for training camp, surgery or not, although nothing had been decided on that front yet.
As the calendar turned to July, Celtics coach Brad Stevens suggested surgery was unlikely and all indications pointed toward Thomas being on target for a healthy start to the season, but still any decision on surgery was a week to 10 days away. Widespread speculation ensued and only became magnified when Boston signed veteran backup Shane Larkin to the team’s 16th guaranteed contract.
Ainge also put to rest fears Larkin’s signing pointed to Thomas’ hip being worse than initially thought:
“This in and of itself is just an opportunity to take a look at a really terrific player on a good contract for us to get a chance to see,” said Ainge, via Himmelsbach. “Shane, we felt like, was one of the best players in Europe this year. He’s really improved his playmaking abilities and we thought he had a terrific year. He has great speed and he’s a terrific shooter. We think he’s a better shooter than his numbers indicate. So we just really like his speed and his ability to get into the paint.”
While concerns over a potential setback may not be fully alleviated, Ainge at least provided more optimism that what Thomas told doctors immediately after the injury remains true: “Whatever they have to do to continue to play at — not just a normal level — at an MVP level, that’s what I’ve been on the doctors about. No matter what happens, let’s make sure I come back even better. And I will.”
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