NBA AM: Isaiah Thomas is Still Needed in Boston

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If you scour the internet and social media these days, articles will appear suggesting that the Boston Celtics should trade All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas.

Yes. You read that correctly.

This is the same Isaiah Thomas that averaged 28.9 points per game during the regular season and finished third in the NBA in scoring. The same Isaiah Thomas that led the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals and this is the same Isaiah Thomas that has earned consecutive trips to the All-Star Game and earned a place on the All-NBA Second Team this year.

It seems a bit ludicrous to suggest the Celtics are better off without him, yet here we are.

Those suggestions stem from the Celtics pulling out a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 in which Thomas was sidelined with a hip injury. It was announced Saturday that Thomas will miss the remainder of the postseason following re-aggravation of a right femoral-acetabular impingement with a labral tear. In all, Thomas missed the final three games of the series and the Celtics went 1-2 in his absence.

It has been proven that without Thomas on the floor, the Celtics are a much better defensive team. The combination of Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley in the backcourt is a tough defensive matchup for opposing teams as both players are great on-ball defenders.

It has also been proven that the Celtics move the ball more with Thomas off of the court. Without Thomas, the Celtics were forced to keep the balling moving in order to get its role players involved. But in Game 3, the point can be made that everything that could have gone right for the Celtics, did go right.

Smart, a 29 percent three-point shooter, was unconscious in Game 3 after knocking down 7-of-10 shots from three-point range. Smart played a key role in digging the Celtics out of a 21-point deficit after he scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half. It also took one of the worst outings of LeBron James’ career to allow the Celtics to come back and win at the buzzer.

The knee-jerk reaction to the Celtics winning Game 3 against the Cavaliers was to suggest that they’re better off with Thomas. The trend continued for the first half of Game 4 in which the Celtics went up by as many as 16 points. Of course, the Cavaliers stormed back to erase that deficit to take Game 4 and they finished off the Celtics Thursday night in Game 5 to advance to the NBA Finals for a third consecutive time.

But, you know who the Celtics could have used in Game 5? Isaiah Thomas.

While the thought of trading Thomas has come front and center as of late, it’s likely that there is not one player in that Celtics locker room that would like to see him leave. Of course, something like that isn’t in their control, but those players will all say that having Thomas healthy and playing at an All-Star level gives them the best chance to win.

Given what Thomas endured this postseason and how he handled it is nothing short of remarkable. He has gone through the tragic death of his sister. He lost a tooth early in the series against the Washington Wizards and he even scored 53 points in Game 2 after receiving six hours of dental work the day before.

Teams are proving in today’s NBA that having a go-to player in crunch time is crucial to having success. If Thomas is off the floor, there is a considerable drop off to the next player down the list. Thomas has proven time and time again that when a big shot is needed, he comes up with it more often than not.

The argument can be made that this Celtics roster wouldn’t have gotten past the Cavaliers even with a healthy Thomas available. While Al Horford and Avery Bradley proved to be extremely effective in the playoffs, the Celtics still needed another player that can score consistently.

The Celtics will have a busy summer that figures to be full of unknowns. They hold the top pick in next month’s draft, but also figure to be extremely active in free agency as they’ve been in recent years. There have been rumors they are looking to add a key player, such as Paul George, Jimmy Butler or Gordon Hayward by way of trades and free agency.

Much has been made about the Celtics owning the top overall pick in the draft. Markelle Fultz is a virtual lock to be the top pick, and many are beginning to wonder if Fultz will become the eventual replacement for Thomas or if the two would be able to play together on the court.

It is true that the Celtics have a decision to make in the coming weeks. Do you draft Fultz and keep him for the long term? Do you draft Fultz and package him in a trade for another proven All-Star like George or Butler? It’s something that the Celtics will now turn their attention to with their playoff run now over.

Building around Fultz and parting ways with Thomas is risky. While Fultz appears to be the top player in the draft, there is no guarantee Fultz can develop into that player and become a top point guard in the league. With Thomas, they already have that.

Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and the Celtics will also have to decide if they want to sign him to a massive long-term deal. He’ll be 29 years old when he hits free agency next summer and will be near his mid-30s at the end of a possible five-year deal the Celtics could offer him.

Right now, there are far more questions than answers surrounding this Celtics team. But none of those questions should be asking if the Celtics are better without Isaiah Thomas.

Because we already know that answer.