By: John Morgan Francis
The past couple of months I’ve been on record saying the Celtics need to trade Isaiah Thomas. However, trading a 28-year old second team All-NBA point guard who finished fifth in MVP voting isn’t that easy. Especially when you’re recruiting a star like Gordon Hayward and selling him on winning a title.
While Thomas is on the best contract in the NBA (will make just over $6M this year) he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and is on record to command a max-deal, as he rightfully deserves. However, is Thomas a max-player on a championship team?
No, he is not. Will Danny Ainge pay the 5’8 point guard $35M a season? Unless Thomas can still average 30 points per game and lead the Celtics to the Finals, no, he likely will not.
So what’s next for Thomas and the Celtics?
Thomas will be 29 next summer and is coming off a hip injury that cut his 2017 postseason stint short. The way the “Little Guy” continuously attacks the basket and has to work extra hard to produce, that style of play doesn’t spell longevity in the NBA. The fact he’s a score-first point guard and his on-ball defense is NBA-worst doesn’t scream max-worthy either.
But does Boston have another choice than to pay him the max? Other than Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, there’d be no other elite option at point guard.
With Westbrook likely demanding a max, could Ainge convince Paul to take a pay cut and chase a title in the weaker East? Who knows?
It should be noted that while the Celtics are projected to have the two-best draft choices next summer, the top players in the draft will likely be wings and big men, not point guards.
So, does Ainge have enough confidence in Marcus Smart to trade IT/let IT walk and allow Smart to take the reins?
Smart would come at a much cheaper price and has the potential to become a Kyle Lowry-like player. He’s also just 23 years old and loves being a Celtic.
Say Danny Ainge chooses Smart as the future, does he let Thomas walk in free agency or trade him before February’s deadline? Well, as we just saw yesterday morning with the Avery Bradley trade, Ainge isn’t one to even let his favorite players walk for nothing.
So what’s Thomas’ trade value? With Thomas coming off a hip injury and in the final year of his contract, I’d say it’s likely not as high as it could be. Therefore, the return (like that of Marcus Morris for Avery Bradley) would be less.
Considering he’d likely be a rental unless that team offered him a large contract, teams on the brink of a lower-seeded playoff berth who needed a 25 PPG guy would be the best suitors. Teams like the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers are two that come to mind.
Regardless of how much Ainge loves his most prized trade gem, the ugly truth is that it’s almost time to let Thomas go. For the better of the Celtics, financially and long-term, Thomas should be paid by another team. The Celtics’ answer as his replacement, however, will become a real question as next summer arrives.
Twitter handle: @MonJorgan