Isaiah Thomas wants a max contract, but should the Boston Celtics grant him his wish?
Despite trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013 and ending the franchises most sustained success since the 1980s, the Boston Celtics once again find themselves atop the Eastern Conference.
The game has definitely changed. Brad Stevens’ modern offensive system that prioritizes ball movement and three-point shooting boosted the Celtics to a 53-29 record last season.
Also, Isaiah Thomas emerged as one of the best point guards in the league. The six-year veteran averaged a career-high 28.9 points per game, to go along with 5.9 assists in 33.8 minutes of playing time. He averaged 9.8 points in the fourth quarter, finishing second in the NBA.
The Boston Celtics posted a +2.1 point differential last year, the lowest of all eight teams that won at least 50 games. In every close game throughout the season, Thomas put the team on his back and carried them to the promised land. He was so clutch that the fourth quarter was simply referred to as “I.T. Time.”
Thomas rose from the depths of a bench player to the heights of an NBA superstar in a flash. He went from competing for playing time with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in a stuffed backcourt in Phoenix and backing up Rajon Rondo in Boston to finishing third in points per game in the NBA in just two seasons.
The 5’9″ lefty out of the University of Washington is one of the best players in the NBA. He has become a superstar, and now he wants to get paid like one.
Back up the Brinks
In early July, Thomas told CSN New England that in order to re-sign him, the Celtics would need to “bring the Brinks truck out.”
Not afraid to reiterate his point, Isaiah Thomas believes that he is fully deserving of a max contract, via the Boston Herald.
“Very confident. I deserve it. I put the work in, and you can put me down against any guard in the NBA. … My numbers are up there with the best players in the world, and my team is winning. So, I mean, you have to reward that.
Thomas has made sure that Danny Ainge understands exactly what he expects when it’s time to talk business in the 2018 offseason, from the Boston Herald.
“He knows. Everybody knows. That’s just what it is. But we have a great relationship. Me and Danny and the Celtics organization, and I always said I would love to be here, but as everybody knows, it’s a business, and at the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you just like the business is going to do what’s best for them, and that’s all I can say on that.”
Indeed, it is a business, and both Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics organization will act according to their own interests at the negotiating table. Will Thomas receive his coveted max contract next summer? It all depends on the upcoming season.
What have you done for me lately?
You see, in sports, everything revolves around your most recent contributions. Back in 2012, Jeremy Lin burst on to the scene out of nowhere. The mayhem that was Linsanity was highlighted by a 38-point explosion in a win against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
He captured the hearts of folks so quickly that some were comparing him to the Black Mamba, which was preposterous at best. But he brought a buzz to Madison Square Garden that hasn’t returned since Linsanity ended. Now, if you ask the average basketball fan about Lin, they probably couldn’t even tell you that he plays for the Brooklyn Nets. How quickly we forget.
Isaiah Thomas had a solid career prior to last season, even averaging 20.3 points a game back in the 2013-14 campaign. But his play last year catapulted him into the realm of the NBA’s elite. Since we aren’t very far removed from his stellar career year, it’s hard to argue against signing Thomas to a max contract.
Thomas set the bar high last year. He showed the NBA world how far his skills would reach, and we expect him to replicate that same magic in the upcoming season. If, Thomas’ production falters, however, age will become a sticking point.
Small players don’t always age well
If Thomas repeats his production from last season, the Celtics will sign him to a max deal and it’ll be the only sensible response. But if Thomas can’t continue to play at a superstar level, he may have to seek a max contract elsewhere.
Any player that is Thomas’ size has to rely on his speed and quickness to some degree. Thomas’ quickness to blow by defenders and finish at the rim while being a threat from the perimeter makes him impossible to defend. But when he loses that explosive first step, and defenders can play tighter defense on him, his effectiveness will diminish.
Even Hall of Fame point guards like Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons), Allen Iverson and Tony Parker slowed down when they entered those dreaded mid-30s. At the age of 33, Allen Iverson averaged only 17.5 points per game on 41.6 percent shooting, Tony Parker averaged 11.9 points and Isiah Thomas had retired.
By next summer, Isaiah Thomas will be 29 years old, and he’ll turn 30 in February of 2019 before he completes the first year of his new contract.
Yes, signing Thomas to a five-year, $200 million+ supermax deal is a risk, one that Danny Ainge will have to weigh. Thomas excels as a scorer, but doesn’t do much else. How much longer can he act as an elite scorer will be the magic question.
The Celtics have to pay Isaiah Thomas
Despite saying all of this, the Celtics have to re-sign Thomas, even if it means paying him the max. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the oldest team in the league, with an average age of 29.9. More importantly, LeBron James will turn 33 this coming December. He hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down, but the King can’t sit on the throne forever.
There have been rumblings that LeBron may head to the Lakers next summer, and Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland too. In that case, the East would be wide open and the Celtics would have a much clearer path to the NBA Finals.
Sure, Boston would still have to overthrow Golden State, a task that seems nearly impossible, but if the Celtics have a shot at the NBA Finals, they have to take it. Isaiah Thomas is more than capable of leading them to the final round, so Danny Ainge had better back up that Brinks.