The Isaiah Thomas Dilemma
The Boston Celtics face some tough decisions this summer. After landing the number one pick in the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery, the Celtics have the top pick in what is a talent-loaded draft class. The consensual best player in the draft, Washington PG Markelle Fultz, will most likely be taken with the first pick. All signs point to him being a difference-maker in the NBA. The only problem with the Celtics taking him with their number one pick is the fact that they already have a point guard and an elite one at that.
Isaiah Thomas was ruled out of the of the playoffs after game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. While the injury shouldn’t have any lasting effects or long-term ramifications, Thomas’ future with the Celtics has never been more in doubt. The Celtics then won game three in Cleveland without Thomas. The combination of Thomas’ injury and winning the draft lottery ignited some heavy speculation as to whether or not the Celtics are better off without Isaiah Thomas. Fans, analysts, and even players took to Twitter to voice their opinions on the matter. Some claimed that Boston should move forward from the All-NBA point guard.
Tim Legler just said the Celtics should trade Isaiah Thomas. Gonna pretend I didn't hear that.
— Chris Martin Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) May 17, 2017
As good a player as Isaiah Thomas is, you're not winning ? w/him as your best player. Instead, trade IT for a wing or a big and draft a PG.
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) May 18, 2017
Now you have to trade Isaiah Thomas for an impact player and draft Fultz right?
— Trevor Booker (@35_Fitz) May 22, 2017
Known vs. Unknown
These takes caused some to consider Thomas’ value, and what he really brings to the table for the Celtics. Thomas just completed the best year of his career. He was selected to the All-Star game, All-NBA Second Team, and found himself in MVP talks near the end of the season. His 28.9 points per game were third-most in the NBA, just behind MVP candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden. He finished second in the NBA in box plus-minus, at 8.8. More win shares were accumulated by Thomas than by guys like Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Anthony Davis. He led the Celtics to a number one seed in the playoffs and on to the Conference Finals. From a production standpoint, Isaiah Thomas would be difficult to replace. Unlike a draft pick or trade, the Celtics know what they have in Isaiah Thomas and what his true value is.
Thomas is a proven leader and leader of this Celtics team. Trading him away could have unforeseen impacts on team chemistry and player morale. The other Celtics players seem to all rally around Thomas and his inspiring performances. Throwing Thomas to the trade-machine wolves after receiving the first pick in the draft and some fluctuation in playoff results seems a little premature, all things considered.
The Celtics are also getting tremendous value from Thomas and his current contract. His 2016-17 salary was $6,587,132, which is but a slim portion of the contracts of other NBA superstars. Thomas has one year remaining on this contract until he becomes an unrestricted free-agent after the 2017-18 season. Knowing what value they are getting from Thomas under his current contract, it would be a questionable call to trade away such efficient contract dollars. It would be difficult to find a trade (unless it was for additional draft picks) that would capture similar value to this current contract.
State of the Franchise
Trading away your bonafide franchise player, your All-Star, seems like risky move. The Celtics are contending for a conference title and don’t seem too far behind the leader of the pack. As much as any teams not named the Warriors or Cavaliers, Boston stands as a legitimate contender, especially given their position in the 2017 NBA Draft. Getting rid of Isaiah Thomas seems like a “rebuilding'” tactic that gives them the possibility of stability in future years. Considering Thomas’ performance this season, age, and mindset, counting him out seems like a mistake altogether. This dilemma adds to what will be an exciting offseason of signings and trades, which should make for an exciting summer.