It was the 2014-15 NBA season. The Boston Celtics were one year into their rebuild and in their second season of the Brad Stevens era. The Celtics started the season struggling on the offensive end, relying on the likes of Evan Turner and Avery Bradley for their scoring.
As the season progressed, it became apparent that the Celtics needed scoring punch off the bench. In the final moments before the February trade deadline, the Celtics made a trade with the Phoenix Suns: Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick headed to sunny Phoenix while former 60th pick journeyman point guard Isaiah Thomas packed his bags for Boston.
The following few months are where the Isaiah and Boston love story began to blossom. Boston loved how Isaiah battled on every possession, never backing down despite seemingly insurmountable size difference, and Isaiah seemed enamored with the unwavering support he received every time he stepped on to the parquet of the TD Garden.
Over the subsequent few months following his arrival, Thomas went on to post some towering numbers of 19 points, 5.4 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game from the bench and propelled the Celtics into the playoffs, coinciding with both Brad Stevens and Isaiah’s own post season debuts. The fairy tale didn’t continue through the playoffs that spring, as Boston got swept by the LeBron James led Cavaliers. Isaiah continued his impressive play during that playoff series however, posting numbers of 17.5 points, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds.
While Isaiah’s first few months in Boston were encouraging, no one could envision the roller coaster he was about to take them on. With every passing week, Isaiah grew in stature as he continued his meteoric rise into the hearts of fans across the globe. His fearlessness on offense and willingness to put the team on his back during tough stretches continued to mesmerize. Isaiah became the team’s floor general, the penetrator who provided the spacing a Brad Stevens team craves.
As time wore on, fans got treated to multiple iterations of Thomas. There was “The King of the Fourth,” “missing tooth Thomas,” and “All-Star Isaiah.” Each of these iterations bore life from different aspects of Thomas’ play, but they all had one thing in common: he performed at that level because he loved the city, the fans, the team, and it felt like home.
However, over the final few months of Isaiah’s tenure in Boston, his life became filled with tragedy. Even with all that emotional and physical pain, Isaiah still suited up and left it all on the court for the city that meant so much to him. And following the team’s elimination from the playoffs that year, Thomas was incorporated into the trade for Kyrie Irving.
Regardless of how much sense that Kyrie trade made on paper, it stung everyone. The “little guy” with such a big heart had transcended the usual player-fan relationship. While Isaiah came to Boston as a projected bench scorer, he left as a legend who embodied what it means to be a Celtic.
It is that legend that needs preserving, the memory of his brilliance is still fresh in the minds of fans everywhere. Herein lies the issue. As you scroll through Celtics Twitter, you will be hard pressed not to stumble across someone championing for the return of Isaiah. The logic for a Thomas return is clear; he would provide reliable scoring of the bench while unlocking stringent defensive second units.
Unfortunately, the Isaiah that left Boston in 2017 is not the same Isaiah that would be walking through those doors should he return. Thomas hasn’t posted a positive plus/minus rating since his last season in Boston, according to Basketball-Reference, nor has he been able to solidify a role on any team he’s been part of since.
Should Isaiah return to the Celtics, the memory of his MVP season would be tarnished by whatever he could contribute now. He left a hero and it would be so hard to see him as just a role player. Sure, it would be amazing to see Isaiah out on the floor again, but this feels more like a nostalgic want rather than a team need. The best way to honor and preserve Isaiah’s legacy is to leave it alone, a moment frozen in time that shall forever live within us. Anything else would be disingenuous to Isaiah and his achievements.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing, and that sentiment rings true in this instance. Isaiah will no doubt find another shot with another NBA team. It shouldn’t be with Boston, not because he isn’t loved, but because he is loved so much.