Rebuilding The Celtics: Isaiah Thomas Must Embrace Sixth Man Role For Boston

Editor’s note: As the Boston Celtics head into the offseason, NESN.com takes a closer look at each player on the roster in an effort to determine who will stick around for next season and who will wind up elsewhere.

Next up: Isaiah Thomas.

Isaiah Thomas was the answer to Celtics fans’ prayers this season.

The diminutive point guard made an immediate impact after being dealt from the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline, acting as the catalyst for Boston’s unexpected — and, some might argue, undesired — playoff run.

So, what’s next for Thomas?

Given his relative youth (26) and team-friendly contract (just south of $20 million over the next three seasons), Thomas could be an attractive trade piece if Danny Ainge wants to package him in a deal for a superstar. Don’t bet on that happening, though.

Thomas easily was the Celtics’ most explosive and productive scorer this season, averaging a team-high 19.0 points per game following the trade while also dishing out an average of 5.4 assists — just a tick below Evan Turner (5.5) for tops on the roster. And he did it all off the bench, not logging a single start for the C’s en route to finishing second in the voting for Sixth Man of the Year.

That last part will be something to keep an eye on this season. Thomas repeatedly has stated he wants to start, but neither Ainge nor head coach Brad Stevens have shown any desire to move him out of his current role, in which he limits the beating his 5-foot-9 frame takes while also enjoying the benefit of often going up against the opposition’s second unit.

“Isaiah expends a ton of energy to score,” Ainge explained at his season-ending news conference earlier this spring. “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.”

So far, Thomas has said all the right things regarding his position as Boston’s sixth man (“whatever the coach wants,” “just want to help the team,” etc.). But how long will it take for reluctance to turn to frustration? If the Celtics stumble out of the gates next season, will Thomas be satisfied with putting up big numbers off the bench?

The C’s might have to deal with those questions down the road. But for now, they should be happy with what they have: a motivated, hungry player who feels he has something to prove this season.

Up next: Evan Turner

Previously: Chris Babb, Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Luigi Datome, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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