It was a bold stroke by the Celtics’ Danny Ainge — he traded away Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving. That was one of a number significant moves by Ainge this summer — 11 of the 15 roster spots changed over, including four of five starters — but trading Thomas was the big one.
On paper, the moves makes sense — Irving is younger, taller, locked in for a couple of years on his contract (Thomas is a free agent next summer), and Irving is not injured right now while Thomas is. But Thomas was a fan favorite who poured his heart out in Boston — he played in a playoff game the day after his sister’s untimely death — and was the heart and soul of the team.
“It changes the whole dynamic, the whole culture. We’ll see if it’s for good or bad, time will tell. But it’s still a little weird to me, to be honest, because when I came in everything they stressed was culture, environment, Celtic basketball. Now, it’s like what is the environment, the culture, what is Celtic basketball? I think it’s a great opportunity for me, great opportunity for the Celtics, great opportunity for Kyrie. Obviously, I loved Isaiah. He was like a big brother to me. I watched him, admired him, the chip he carried on his shoulder I love him. I still do. I’ve kept in contact with him. Congratulated him when he got traded to the Cavs. It’s tough because it’s the business we live in. Do I agree with it? Not necessarily. I think Isaiah definitely tried to plant his flag in Boston. He will definitely be missed—he and Jae [Crowder] both.
Culture on a team comes from two places. First, you need coaches and management/ownership who understand how to build the culture they want. Boston has that with Ainge and coach Brad Stevens. But it has to come from the team leaders and best players as well. Is San Antonio the same if Gregg Popovich doesn’t have Tim Duncan? The Warriors if Steve Kerr doesn’t have Stephen Curry?
Thomas had been a central part of the culture in Boston and key for Stevens. Same with Avery Bradley (also gone). Maybe with Irving and Gordon Hayward the culture will continue, but it’s a fair question to ask.
Stevens will likely work his magic, and the Celtics will be the Celtics again. But it is going to feel a little different.