Lakers guard Isaiah Thomas had the best years of his NBA career in Boston as a member of the Celtics and it now looks as though Thomas could be making his way back to the Hub this summer. Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent in a few months but “the little guy’s” wish of seeing that Brinks truck back up to his front door are long gone. That’s why the Celtics – with some creative cap maneuvering could sign Thomas.
Also hurting Thomas’ chances of a big pay day and increasing the chances that the cap-cramped Celtics could actually squeeze him in is that the point guard position is the deepest position in the league. Even mediocre-to-bad teams in the NBA (Grizzlies – Mike Conley, Hornets – Kemba Walker, Nets – D’Angelo Russell, etc.) have legit point guards right now, which means players like Thomas will find it hard to land a big deal.
Thomas will likely not even field an offer like the one Jeff Teague (like Thomas, a point guard and fringe All-Star when all is going well) got from Minnesota last summer, which was a three-year, $57 million deal. In fact, Thomas might even struggle to get an offer to match what he’s making now - $6.2 million per year.
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The Celtics would surely have to let Marcus Smart walk in free agency to bring Thomas back. That might not be the best idea considering Thomas’s defensive deficiencies, but the current Celtics roster could actually use a scoring boost.
The C’s rank just 19th in the NBA in team scoring. The three teams that they are chasing for a title this season (the Warriors, Rockets and Raptors) are 1-2-3 in terms of team scoring average. That’s a bit worrisome, but take away Smart and the Celtics obviously aren’t as good on the defensive end. It’s a rob Peter to pay Paul scenario.
But if he returned to the Celtics, Thomas would instantly be the best sixth man in the league. He thrived for the Celtics in a bench role just a couple years back, and the Celtics could conceivably play both Thomas and Kyrie Irving on the floor at the same time – particularly in the fourth quarter when both players thrive.
Brad Stevens is a firm believer in position-less basketball, as is Danny Ainge – who actually started this trend 20 years ago as head coach of the Phoenix Suns when he would run out lineups that featured guards Jason Kidd, Rex Chapman, Steve Nash and Kevin Johnson.
All told, the thought of bringing Thomas back into the fold is an exciting one for Celtics fans – and likely Thomas himself. The issue this summer, of course, will be the money.
Would the Celtics want to bring back Thomas on a middle-of-the-road NBA deal, or would they rather keep that money and keep their options open? Ainge the Celtics are reportedly saving up their remaining assets to land one more “big fish” along the lines of an Anthony Davis. Bringing back Thomas would just add to the C’s salary cap issues and make it more difficult to swing a mega-deal next year or the year after.
There’s also the issue of Terry Rozier, who is currently thriving in the backup point guard role for the Celtics. Plus, he’s cheaper than Thomas.
This is a big decision for Thomas and he’ll likely wind up going to the highest bidder – which likely won’t be the Celtics. Still, this nostalgia thought will remain right up until Thomas signs with a team this summer.