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The Isaiah Thomas Question

With Markelle Fultz likely headed to Boston, should the Celtics trade their star?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Celtics have the top pick in the draft, and with point guard Markelle Fultz the consensus top prospect, a problem emerges: What should Boston do with Isaiah Thomas? He was sensational in Boston last year, but with him suffering a hip injury and with a top pick coming in, his future is murky. Bill Simmons and Kevin O’Connor talked about the Celtics’ options on the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Bill Simmons: Around the league, people are really fascinated [with] whether the Celtics are going to trade Isaiah Thomas this summer. This is a real story line that everybody is talking about. It’s just startling thinking about the season he had, how much people love him, the fact that he made the conference finals, [and] the fact he’s coming off a historic offensive season. I think he has the chance to get even a little bit better assuming his hip is 100 percent healthy, which we don’t know. He’s under the best contract in the league and they’re paying him only [$6.3 million] next year. They don’t have to worry about an extension for him for a year. I think he could play really well with Markelle Fultz, potentially. And yet, people keep asking: What are they doing about Isaiah?

Kevin O’Connor: I think there’s some logic to it, for sure. If somebody totally overwhelms the Celtics … Danny Ainge has always said, "There’s no such thing as an untouchable [player]." And I believe him. You look at his history, he traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett when a lot of fans at the time were furious about it.

Simmons: Me too. I was one of them.

O’Connor: The first trade [he made] was Antoine Walker years ago. That was, I think, the first move he made trading a fan favorite in Antoine.

Simmons: He traded the no. 5 lottery pick in ’07, which was, in the moment, bizarre. It was like, "Great, we have Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. What is that? Forty-four wins next year? That gets us nowhere." So I agree with you.

O’Connor: If someone is going to overwhelm [the Celtics] for a 5-foot-9 point guard coming off a major hip injury [who’s] about to demand a max contract, then maybe you think about it. Isaiah’s unbelievable, and I can’t recall a time in my lifetime when a person who scored 29 points per game was involved in [trade rumors] so quickly after the season. I think if you sign [Gordon] Hayward and you’re able to do some other nice stuff, you keep IT. But if you went into this summer and someone’s dangling the 5-pick, the 6-pick, maybe you think about that. I think there’s some logic to really maximizing these next two drafts. I think 2017 and 2018 especially, some of these guys who are gonna get picked are going to be the guys who define the next decade of basketball. The Warriors aren’t going to last forever, so if you’re able to get some of those guys who are going to be those players that you need to win titles, those cornerstones, these are the next two drafts where there are a lot of those guys. … But it would have to be an overwhelming offer.

Simmons: 1 to 10, where do you stand?

O’Connor: Probably like a 4, 5. I just don’t think they ultimately do it. But I think it should be something they think about. Everything should be on the table.

Simmons: I’m a 10 out of 10 for this being a story everybody is talking about. I’m a 2 out of 10 for there being any truth to it, and here’s why: He’s not healthy. That hip injury he has is a real injury, and we haven’t really gotten a lot of information about it since it happened. It seems like he got hurt in mid-March, and then he made it worse during the playoffs. Maybe even two different times. It’s a hip injury, which makes me nervous. There’s a checkered history with this injury. Some people have come back and come back 100 percent; other people haven’t. Like Jonny Flynn, it ended his career, basically. So it makes me think it’s just hard to trade somebody who is probably going to have to go under the knife. Whether it’s like a major surgery or an arthroscopic surgery and it’s six weeks and he’s fine? I don’t know. But it seems to be more likely that this trade would happen in February if it was ever going to happen.

O’Connor: That timing makes sense. It would have to be overwhelming, whenever it happens. A pick this year, a pick two years from now, a young-player asset, it would need to be a ridiculous offer. And I don’t see that happening, especially after the injury.

Simmons: I think you’re thinking about this the wrong way. Why can’t it be for another good player?

O’Connor: It could be.

Simmons: Why couldn’t it be, say, Isaiah and Jae Crowder for Jimmy Butler?

O’Connor: Could work. Then have Markelle Fultz be your young point guard.