Six hundred and sixty-nine days.
That’s how long it took Isaiah Thomas to return to the TD Garden floor. On May 19th, 2017, he played just seventeen minutes and missed all six of his shots in a 44-point drubbing at the hands of the Cavaliers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Six hundred and sixty-nine days later, he returned a Nugget and was showered with a public display of love and affection that was two years overdue. And yes, there was a video tribute.
Sandwiched in between those two games on the parquet was off-season hip surgery, a trade that shipped him out like spare parts to a Cleveland junkyard, feelings hurt after IT had become an overnight folk legend in Boston, a painful rehab with the Cavaliers, a falling out with the Cavaliers, another trade to the Lakers, another off-season surgery, signing in Denver for the veteran minimum after speaking of Brinks trucks the year before, another painful rehab with the Nuggets, and another falling out with the Nuggets.
After his return to Boston in March, Thomas was asked what the city meant to him. His answer: “home.”
“I went through a real life situation here when I lost my sister and this city and organization went through it with me. The love was always there, but that took it to another level. I went through the worst situation you can possible go through in life with these people and they were right there with me,” Thomas said. “Everybody. In the city, the organization, they went through that with me. That’s why Boston means so much to me.”
The Celtics are currently at the crossroads at the point guard position. The man they dealt IT for, Kyrie Irving, is a free agent and if you’re following the trade winds, all rumors point to Brooklyn. Terry Rozier is a restricted free agent and while Danny Ainge re-confirmed his affection for him this week, it could be tough for Rozier to get back to Boston after burning every bridge on his way out. The Celtics are far from looking for another PG with Marcus Smart still in the fold, but at some point this summer, there could be a window of opportunity for Thomas.
In his stints in Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Denver, Thomas was never able to hit that next gear. The torn hip labrum zapped his lightning-quick zip that made him so special. He’ll also be battling age now. At 30, he’s on the back slide of his prime and it’s been steep. It might work in his favor that the Celtics won’t be as dependent on him now as before and he’d be just one of the guys and not the focal point.
Or maybe IT + Boston is just all magic. Just two years ago, Thomas was a legit MVP candidate. The 5’9 waterbug electrified the Garden and the rest of the league back in 2017. His offensive numbers that season stack up against the greatest single season statistical performances in the entire history of the franchise and more so, he quickly reached legend status in a town rich of them already. He connected to the core of Celtics fans with his blue collar approach to the work, his selfless and often reckless style of play, and an awareness that he wasn’t just playing for himself or the team, but for the fans in the stands and the city as a whole.
There’s obviously no guarantee that IT could regain that form again and if we’re being honest, it’s probably doubtful. If he did come back, he’d probably start the same way he began his first stint in green: coming off the bench as the sixth man. But if we know anything about Thomas, it’s that he relishes the moment. There’s no telling what Thomas would look like now with this roster, but if he’s an option off the bench, I want the King of the Fourth in the clutch.
Thomas reportedly reached out to Danny Ainge last summer about a possible reunion. It didn’t happen then and right now, considering bringing IT back is probably way down on Danny’s to-do list, if at all. So much has to happen between now and the draft and then free agency. Thomas isn’t even a domino at this point. But come mid-to-late July, when Ainge is filling out the roster and looking for that special something that could be the difference, he’ll check his watch and know what time it is.