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The Harsh Reality of Being Traded

Cody Taylor looks at Isaiah Thomas and the harsh realities of trades in the NBA.

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Isaiah Thomas was driving home in Seattle when he returned a missed phone call from Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.

It was on that phone call that Thomas had learned he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. After hearing the news that he had been traded, Thomas had one question: “To where?”

And just like that, Thomas was traded from a team that he had given everything for in a course of two and a half seasons. He had battled through a serious hip injury, appeared in a playoff game just one day after the passing of his sister and made countless clutch shots during his time in the Green and White.  

If ever there was a time that sports fans had an opportunity to hear an athlete uncut, raw and honest, that time came on Wednesday. In a posting on The Players’ Tribune, Thomas offered a glimpse into what it’s really like to be traded as a professional athlete.

It happens in moments when an athlete least expects it. Thomas had just come from celebrating his one-year wedding anniversary with his wife in Miami. It was in that moment that Thomas immediately began thinking about the repercussions a trade like this would have on his family.

“I thought about my two sons, James and Jaiden, and having to tell them that it was time to move,” Thomas said in the posting on The Players’ Tribune. “I knew it was going to come as a shock to them — first, with it being right before the start of the school year. And second, knowing how much Boston had started to feel like a home to them. To all of us.”

As Thomas reflects on the trade, he admits that it still hurts to leave Boston. Thomas solidified his place among the best point guards in the league with the Celtics. He led them to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season and became a fan favorite during the process.

“And I hope people can understand that when I say it hurt, it isn’t directed at anyone,” Thomas said. “I’m not saying I was hurt by anyone, or wronged by anyone, or betrayed. I’m just saying, man, I’m only human. I may act like a tough guy on the court. And I may seem like I have ice in my veins when I’m competing. But at the same time — it ain’t ice, really. I got blood and I got a heart like everyone else.”

Of course, professional athletes are subject to being cut, traded or demoted at virtually any moment. In Thomas’ case, even some of the game’s most elite players are even tradeable. Athletes know it’s a business at the end of the day and anything can happen.

While some players have requested trades in recent memory (including the player Thomas was traded for: Kyrie Irving), Thomas made no such request. He was a player that wanted to continue to build the Celtics into a contender, but he understands it’s a business.

“It’s not that I don’t understand it. Of course I get it: This is a business,” Thomas said. “Danny [Ainge] is a businessman, and he made a business move. I don’t agree with it, just personally, and I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better by making this trade. But that’s not my job. That’s Danny’s. And it’s a tough job, and he’s been really good at it.”

While the initial reaction for Thomas being traded from the Celtics was negative, the reaction joining the Cavaliers has been quite the opposite. As Thomas learned about the trade, he wanted to first tell his children. While his youngest son was sad to leave Boston, his oldest was quite excited.

“LEBRON! LEBRON JAMES! Dad — Dad. You get to play with LeBron James!” Thomas said.

“One, as my oldest said it: ‘LeBron James.’ Or put another way — I get to come over and join the best team in the East, and try to win a championship alongside the best basketball player in the world.”

As Thomas recounted his experience being traded for The Players’ Tribune, he’ll now be faced with the harsh reality of answering the tough questions: his health. While Thomas didn’t address his hip injury once in his piece, he’ll surely be pressed with those questions Thursday morning when he’s introduced to the media by Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman and head coach Tyronn Lue.

It is unclear at this time just how long Thomas will be out with a hip injury, but many have speculated it could be an extended amount of time given that the Cavaliers requested an additional draft pick from the Celtics to complete the trade.

Given all of the uncertainty with Thomas and his injured hip, he did leave Cavaliers fans with some words of encouragement.

“I’mma just say this here, point-blank, to get it over with — and then you can go ahead and post it on whatever bulletin boards you want to: You are not going to want to mess with the Cavs this year,” Thomas said. “This is going to be a great year to be a Cavs fan, a great year. And I’m excited.”

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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