Isaiah Thomas became a Boston legend in short-order after spending just two-and-a-half seasons with the team before being dealt to Cleveland in a mega-deal that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston.
In a heartfelt letter via the Players’ Tribune, Thomas examined his emotions in the wake of the trade:
But yeah, I’ll just say it: That shit hurt. It hurt a lot.
And I won’t lie — it still hurts.
It’s not that I don’t understand it. Of course I get it: This is a business. Danny is a businessman, and he made a business move. I don’t agree with it, just personally, and I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better by making this trade. But that’s not my job. That’s Danny’s. And it’s a tough job, and he’s been really good at it. But at the end of the day, these deals just come down to one thing: business. So it’s no hard feelings on that end. I’m a grown man, and I know what I got into when I joined this league — and so far it’s been more blessings than curses. I’m not sitting here, writing this, because I feel I was wronged. I wasn’t wronged. It was Boston’s right to trade me.
Thomas clearly struggled to come to grips with the idea of loyalty, and the fact that players are asked to be loyal to an organization when they’re often shipped across the country with little-to-no ability to influence their destination:
I was thinking about that last year with KD and his free agency — about how people gave him such a hard time for doing what he felt was best for him and his future. How they turned him into a villain, just for doing what was his right to do as a free agent in this league. Suddenly, it was, “Oh, he’s selfish,” or, “Oh, he’s a coward.” Suddenly, just for doing business on his end, and doing right by himself, he was portrayed as this bad guy.
Despite clearly having wanted to stay in Boston, Thomas discussed his excitement to play alongside LeBron James and to play with the East’s best team for the past three seasons.
I’ma just say this here, point-blank, to get it over with — and then you can go ahead and post it on whatever bulletin boards you want to: You are not going to want to mess with the Cavs this year. This is going to be a great year to be a Cavs fan, a great year. And I’m excited.
From a basketball perspective, me on the Cavs is a match made in heaven. If you’ve watched any Celtics games last year, then you know how many times I would have to go through double and even triple teams, just to get my shot off. It ended up working fine for us — guys played great, and my shot was falling. But this year … man, it’s not even going to be a thing. You really going to throw three guys on me, when I’m sharing a court with the best basketball player on the planet? Nah, I don’t think so.
You really ought to read the whole piece, as Thomas goes into his relationship with the city of Boston, and how it’s going to be a strange feeling to be joining the Goliath instead of trying to play David as he has for the past two-and-a-half seasons.
We poke fun at the idea of loyalty, often rightfully so, and underplay the connection a person feels with the city they play for as a marketing device to get us to buy jerseys. And more often than not, it is that. Every now and again, though, a city and player do forge a genuine connection, and when it happens, it’s nothing to sneeze at.
Thomas didn’t want to leave Boston. He wanted to stay there, build a legacy, get a max deal and become a Celtic great. I’m sure he’s still recalibrating his expectations for where his career could turn in his new environment amidst concerns that his hip injury might leave him on the sidelines longer than we might have hoped.
It’s not easy to change your entire career outlook over the course of a couple weeks, but Thomas is suddenly faced with a ton of uncertainty. We do know that he’s a famously hard worker with an even more famous chip on his shoulder. That typically plays well in a place like Cleveland, and it’ll be interesting to see how this new relationship is formed in the wake of Kyrie Irving breaking a lot of hearts on his way out the door (fairly or not.)
Thomas might not have wanted to leave, but he couldn’t have landed in a much better situation. The opener against the Celtics should be fascinating.