|Danny Ainge’s 25 most consequential trades: 6. Hello, Isaiah Thomas||09.30.15 at 4:20 pm ET|
Over the next month, we’ll chronicle the 25 most consequential trades of Danny Ainge’s tenure as Celtics president of basketball operations. When we’re done, we’ll have a better understanding of Ainge’s philosophy and success rate on the trade market. Perhaps by the end of this exercise we’ll even feel better about the future of this rebuild. At the very least, we’ll have something interesting to debate while we wait for preseason to play out.
- No. 25: Hello, Sebastian Telfair.
- No. 24: Goodbye, Semih Erden.
- No. 23: Hello and goodbye again, Antoine Walker.
- No. 22: Hello, Ricky Davis.
- No. 21: Goodbye, Walter McCarty.
- No. 20: Hello, Keyon Dooling.
- No. 19: Hello and goodbye, Courtney Lee.
- No. 18: Hello, Kelly Olynyk.
- No. 17: Hello, Nate Robinson.
- No. 16: Hello, Brandon Bass.
- No. 15: Hello, Wally Szczerbiak.
- No. 14: Goodbye, Jiri Welsch.
- No. 13: Hello, Leon Powe.
- No. 12: Goodbye, Jeff Green.
- No. 11: Hello and goodbye, Jordan Crawford.
- No. 10: Goodbye, Antoine Walker.
- No. 9: Hello, Kendrick Perkins.
- No. 8: Hello, Tony Allen.
- No. 7: Goodbye, Rajon Rondo.
With that out of the way, here’s No. 6 on the list of Danny Ainge’s 25 most consequential trades.
July 10, 2014: Hello, Tyler Zeller.
ARRIVING in Boston
- Marcus Thornton: In order to shed salary for the return of LeBron James, Cleveland essentially sent Jarrett Jack to Brooklyn for Thornton, and Boston took the latter’s expiring $8.6 million contract off the Cavaliers, hands. While on the Celtics, Thornton continued to be what he’d been in his five previous seasons — a productive scorer off the bench who wasn’t worth the four-year, $31 million deal Sacramento signed him to in 2011.
- Tyler Zeller: The 7-foot North Carolina did what most players have done under Celtics coach Brad Stevens — develop in almost every respect. Zeller averaged 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per 36 minutes last season, taking strides as a mid-range jump shooter and rim protector. A year later, Cleveland’s 2012 first-round pick still has a year left on his rookie contract and doesn’t become a restricted free agent until next summer.
- Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick (top-10 protected): Granted, this pick will fall in the late 20s come June, if not 30th overall, but even the lowest first-round pick is a valuable asset in a league that protects them dearly.
DEPARTING to Cleveland
- $10.3 million trade exception: The Celtics also included a conditional second-round pick that never came to fruition, so this is all they gave up — the trade exception created upon dealing Paul Pierce‘s salary to Brooklyn.
Feb. 19, 2015: Hello, Isaiah Thomas.
ARRIVING in Boston
- Isaiah Thomas: Playing in a crowded Suns backcourt behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, Thomas was in the midst of a Sixth Man of the Year-worthy campaign, averaging 15.2 points on nearly 40 percent shooting off the bench. The 5-foot-9 point guard added 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes a night over his 46 games in Phoenix — consistent with the 36-minute averages that made him one of the league’s most efficient players in Sacramento. He was even better in Boston, averaging 19.0 points and 5.4 assists in 26 minutes. Oh, and he’s working on one of the league’s best contracts, which declines from $6.9 million each year through 2017-18.
DEPARTING to Phoenix
- Marcus Thornton: After leaving the Celtics, Thornton was stuck on the end of the Suns bench. He scored a total of 32 points in nine appearances for Phoenix, and then missed 14 of the final 15 games with a toe injury.
- Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick (top-10 protected): See? Told you low first-round picks are still valuable.
There may be a handful of Ainge’s trades more consequential than this one, but you won’t find any more creative.
In some serious origami, Ainge turned a piece of paper into Tyler Zeller and Isaiah Thomas. Actually, I’m not even sure trade exceptions are printed on pieces of paper. They might just be in the ether. In which case, Ainge literally pulled a 24-year-old starting center and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate out of thin air. Is that good? I think that’s good.
|Isaiah Thomas, Floyd Mayweather can’t get enough of each other||09.15.15 at 5:02 pm ET|
Seven months later, their bromance seems to have blossomed into a full-scale public display of brofection. We’ll let the C’s pint-sized point guard explain, as he did during an interview with SiriusXM’s Going the Distance that was transcribed by ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg.
“He respects me a lot. A lot of people in his circle, when I’m around they are like, ‘Man, you don’t understand how much Floyd talks about you when you’re not here. He just loves you around.’ I think that’s the little-guy complex, that we gotta stick together.
“So I think we relate to each other a lot more than any other athlete that he has relationships with or friendship with. Just from that, we kinda bond and we got a close friendship. Just from us being small and doubted our whole lives.”
Considering Mayweather’s history in relationships, perhaps we should be concerned about Thomas, but there’s at least one positive benefit to his friendship with arguably the most brash man on Earth.
“Man, it’s done wonders for me,” said Thomas. “Even the first day when I met him five or six years ago when I went to watch him train, it was just like, man, you see why he’s the best at what he does. And you see why he hasn’t taken a loss in  fights. It’s just amazing. He’s the definition of hard work and dedication, somebody, that, no matter what time of day it is, it can be 4 or 5 in the morning, he’s going to go on a six-mile run, or go to the gym and get nine rounds of sparring in with no breaks.
“I just try translate that to the basketball court. If a guy at  years old is working that hard, I gotta at least work as hard him on the basketball court — and I’m 26 years old. He’s a guy that I definitely look up to as an athlete and a guy that really helps me out, not just in basketball, but being the best at your craft. And wanting to be the best and not just saying it.”
While Mayweather is accustomed to declaring himself the best ever in a boxing ring, thankfully Thomas lives in the real world, where he set two goals for the 2015-16 NBA season — winning a playoff series and making the All-Star team — taking careful consideration to mention, “first and foremost it comes with team goals.” Given the finish to last season and their additions this summer, the Celtics should absolutely consider an Atlantic Division title and a second-round playoff appearance within reach. And if Thomas builds on his 19 points and 5.4 assists per game over the final two months of 2014-15, there are certainly All-Star spots to be had in the Eastern Conference’s backcourt.
P.S. I’m with the SiriusXM hosts in wondering how Thomas’ team only defeated Mayweather’s squad by a 3-2 margin in their best-of-five pickup series, even if the rosters were five against five.
And for some reason my favorite part about the Showtime video of their interaction was Thomas saying, “I can’t do a cool move and people like it?” You can do cool moves, Isaiah. People like it.
|Isaiah Thomas: Playing with DeMarcus Cousins again ‘would be something special’||07.14.15 at 9:54 am ET|
During Isaiah Thomas‘ trip abroad for the NBA 3X Spain three-on-three basketball tournament last month, the Celtics guard conducted an interview with Spanish newspaper Diario AS as a precursor to the team’s preseason game against Real Madrid on Oct. 8. He touched on subjects as wide-ranging as DeMarcus Cousins and Floyd Mayweather.
Here are a few highlights roughly translated from the original interview.
When will we see the Celtics fighting for another ring?
“In the next two years. That is the plan. Danny Ainge is trying to build a winning team from scratch. I hope to be part of that future and reach that goal.”
And so, what is the way to go?
“As easy as getting us a couple more good players. That is what we need. I hope that this summer we can do really well in the market for free agents, which already being a playoff team will take us to the next level. The most important thing for us is getting a big man and starting from there to continue to grow. I’d like to be able to persuade Marc Gasol to come to the Celtics.”
NOTE: Keep in mind, this interview was conducted prior to free agency and shortly after Thomas joked on Twitter about recruiting Gasol during his trip to Europe.
Going to Spain next week. Maybe I run into a really talented big man LOL
‘ Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas) June 12, 2015
And DeMarcus Cousins?
“[Laughs.] It would be something special to join him in the locker room again. For me, he is among the best big men in the world: He is intelligent, and there aren’t many big men with his talent …”
|Celtics say Isaiah Thomas’ wrist surgery not serious||07.13.15 at 12:22 pm ET|
Heads were turned over the weekend when guard Isaiah Thomas revealed that he had offseason wrist surgery, but the Celtics played down the seriousness of the procedure.
Thomas tweeted a reference to the surgery Saturday. Coach Brad Stevens then explained that the it was done sometime last month in an effort to clean up the wrist, on which Thomas had surgery the previous year as well — which apparently led to the development of a cyst.
“I don’t know exactly what the deal was, but just had a little cyst removed from his wrist,” Stevens told reporters Sunday (via MassLive.com). “It was something that we knew at the end of the year they would have to [remove it]. It’s a small, minor thing, so they had to take care of it.”
Contacted by The Boston Globe, Thomas said he hopes to be healthy in 2-4 weeks, and Stevens said he expects Thomas to be ready for training camp.
“He’s well, well, well ahead of schedule,” Stevens said. “There’s no long-term ill effects or anything like that.”
|Isaiah Thomas doesn’t think Danny Ainge is done||07.10.15 at 7:46 am ET|
Thomas, who was acquired at last season’s trade deadline, played 21 games for the C’s last regular season and all four games of the team’s sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers.
“For the most part, I like the moves we have made, and I know Danny is probably trying to make more to get better or more players to fit whatever he’s trying to do,” Thomas said, according to MassLive. ‘I’m down for what he’s doing and I like the new guys.”
|Isaiah Thomas to DeMarcus Cousins: I know who wants you||06.24.15 at 8:59 am ET|
As rumor spread that his coach was rallying teammates around trading him, Kings superstar DeMarcus Cousins posted the chillest photo in the history of chill photos on Instagram with the caption: “Meanwhile … good vibes.” Noted Instagram stalker Jimmy Toscano of Comcast (we kid) uncovered a comment from Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas on the photo: “If they don’t want you, I know who does.”
Thomas and Cousins played three seasons together in Sacramento, and three days ago Cousins posted an Instagram photo of his former teammate with the caption: “Follow the family. He finally got an Instagram.” No word on whether Thomas was invited to the super chill beach dinner.
|To keep or not to keep: What to do with Celtics||04.29.15 at 11:14 pm ET|
Celtics coach Brad Stevens and team president Danny Ainge aren’t going anywhere. That much we know. Everyone else on the roster is up for debate. Certainly, nobody is untradeable, so let’s attempt to project how these C’s players fit into Ainge’s puzzle this coming summer with a game of ‘to keep or not to keep.’
BRANDON BASS (unrestricted free agent)
Through all the upheaval, Bass was the rock of the 2014-15 Boston Celtics. Built like a Chevy truck, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound big man appeared in all 82 games for the second straight season. (He’s missed just eight games since arriving in Boston four years ago.) Splitting his time between starting and reserve roles, Bass produced the best per-minute numbers of his career this past summer while averaging the fewest minutes of his Celtics tenure (23.5). He remains one of the league’s elite midrange shooters and double-handed dunked his way to a decent percentage around the rim, but concerns about him linger.
He’s neither an exceptional rebounder nor rim protector defensively — an issue that killed the Celtics against the Cavaliers — and does not fit Stevens’ floor-stretching mold offensively. There wasn’t much of a trade market for an undersized power forward who brings few of the skills required for such players in today’s NBA at $6.9 million, and his disappearance in the playoffs may have sealed his fate at any rate.
Verdict: Not to keep.
AVERY BRADLEY (signed through 2017-18 for $8.3 million per season)
Playing the most minutes of his career, Bradley took a slight step back from a stellar offensive season in 2013-14, when he shot 40 percent from 3-point range. Still one of the league’s best marksmen from midrange, his 3-point percentage dipped to 35 percent this year. Not a playmaker by any stretch, Bradley was asked to shoulder a less-than-ideal offensive load in the absence of capable scorers, and his efficiency would benefit from improved offensive talent easing the defensive pressure around him.
As for his own defense, Bradley returned to bulldog form, hounding Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving throughout the first round. Irving averaged 25.1 points per 100 possessions on 38 percent shooting opposite Bradley in the series and 41.2 points per 100 possessions on 58 percent shooting with him on the bench. That brand of on-ball defense, particularly when paired with Marcus Smart’s similar skill set, is invaluable.
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