WALTHAM, Mass. — Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas spent this entire season as a reserve who wanted to start.
The man running the show in Boston, however, has no desire to remove him from the bench.
“Right now for our team, I think Isaiah is more suited for a bench role,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Thursday. “But ultimately, that’s (head coach) Brad (Stevens’ decision). Isaiah expends a ton of energy to score. At his size, I’m not sure the average fan can recognize how hard it is for him to create offense and how hard he has to work. Anybody who watched the Cleveland (Cavaliers playoff) series could see that. You need guys to play offense and defense, and at his size, defense is sometimes a challenge and puts our team where we have to cover up for some of his mistakes.”
At 5-foot-9, Thomas is one of the NBA’s shortest players, and some of the league’s better guards — Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, for example — were able to expose some of his shortcomings on the defensive end. Thomas is by far the Celtics’ most explosive offensive player, and his 19.0 points per game led the team by a wide margin, but Ainge believes he’s most effective when he’s not saddled with a starter-level workload.
“I thought Brad did a magnificent job of utilizing him at the most needed times of the game,” Ainge said. “At the most needed times of the game, the ball was in his hands. Maximizing his production is the most important. So, starting and playing 37 to 38 minutes, if the production is not going to be that much greater, then it doesn’t make any sense. We feel like we’re sort of maximizing his minutes and production at the high 20s to low 30s types of minutes as opposed to playing him more minutes and not getting the extra production.”
It’s doubtful Thomas will have a change of heart this offseason and embrace life as a bench player. He’ll almost certainly enter training camp as motivated as ever to crack the starting five.
Ainge doesn’t really care about all that, though, as long as Thomas brings his best when his number’s called.
“His job is to play,” Ainge said. “His job is to help the Celtics win. He can choose to be happy, or he can choose not to, but I’m confident that Isaiah is with us. I like the fact that he likes to be a starter. I don’t know a player that doesn’t want to be a starter.
“… Sometimes you’ve got to play the role that’s best to win and do what’s best for the team. I’m confident that Isaiah is a winner, and I don’t think it’s as big a deal as you and I are talking about it right now.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images