Isaiah Thomas got his well-deserved moment Monday night at TD Garden.
It’s become something of a running joke at this point, but the former Boston Celtics star finally was honored in front of the Boston faithful with a touching video tribute and a hard-earned, lengthy standing ovation.
It was a very nice moment … it was also kind of sad.
It’s sad to see how far Thomas has fallen since his time with the Celtics. If you go back to the 2016-17 season, Thomas was on top of his game. It felt like he made a big play every night, and the Celtics have rarely played as hard at any point over the last two seasons as they did every night of that season — and Thomas was the biggest reason why.
But two years might as well be 20 years ago. Thomas is open to an eventual return to the Celtics, and it’s easy to see why. His career was never better than it was when he was wearing green. He was one of the best players in basketball and was revered by one of the sport’s most passionate fanbases. He wasn’t just the King in the Fourth, he was the king of basketball in Boston. In the nearly two years since Boston traded him to Cleveland, however, Thomas has been working to escape basketball hell.
Thomas, the Celtics and Celtics fans all benefited from Thomas’ time in Boston, so it’s understandable as to why some people hope for another go-around, but that sort of reunion doesn’t really make much sense for either side, especially the C’s. Thomas gave his heart and soul every time he took the court, but that cost him in the long run. The hip injury that ultimately coincided with the end of Thomas’ run in Boston still nags him to this day. He might feel and even look healthy, but he’s played a grand total of seven minutes in the Denver Nuggets’ last four games. He’s a shell of the player he was just two years ago, and there’s little use for him on of the NBA’s best teams.
The sad truth is there probably would be little use for him in Boston, too. It would be great to see Thomas in the green No. 4 again, but that would be because of the memories it would evoke not because of what it could mean for the Celtics’ short- and long-term successes on the court. Quite frankly, there’s not much Thomas — in his current state — can offer to a Celtics team with visions of title contention not only now but two, three, four years from now. It’s hard to see how Thomas — even at a discounted rate — figures into those plans, at least as anything resembling a contributor.
The Celtics needed Thomas to get where they are today, but it’s hard to see him helping them get to where they ultimately want to be.
And it’s hard to see how Thomas would benefit from a return to The Hub. He’s an extremely prideful player and person (for good reason), so why wouldn’t he take a chance on himself to find his game on a team that will give him more of a chance to play?
Judging by some of the social media reaction to Thomas’ return, it might be hard for some fans to accept or acknowledge the notion that the Celtics don’t need Thomas or even stand to gain much from the former All-Star. It would be a nice story, but it probably wouldn’t make the Celtics better. This isn’t “Space Jam.” Putting on the shamrock won’t mean Thomas suddenly regains his superpowers, and it won’t magically undo any damage to Thomas’ body or game that his hip injury might have done.
Isn’t it better at this point to just let Monday night be the final chapter in this love story? After an ugly breakup, everyone finally feels good about each other again. Why risk doing any more damage when it’s hard to see much benefit for either party? What happens if Thomas comes back to Boston and still can’t crack the rotation and is a shell of his former self? That would be an even sadder end than the messy divorce from two summers ago.
And that sucks. In a perfect world, Thomas would return to Boston and help finish what he started. He’d be the glue that held the group together while playing a limited but valuable role off the bench on a very good team. But he just doesn’t look like that player anymore and hasn’t for a while. It’s hard to say predict the 5-foot-9, 30-year-old with a bad hip will suddenly turn the corner and regain his throne.
Then again, that line of thinking probably motivates Thomas as much as anything else at this point, too.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images