When coach Brad Stevens saw that former Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas agreed to a 10-day contract with the Pelicans Friday, he sent a text message to New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy to let him know what kind of player the team was getting.
“Obviously I can’t say enough good things about Isaiah,” Stevens said. “I’m brought back to how much I appreciate the way that that team played, and he was obviously the leader of the group. But he was so special here and so special to be around that you want the best for him, and this is a great opportunity.”
Thomas reached his second consecutive All-Star Game with the Celtics in the 2016-17 season, but he injured his hip in the Eastern Conference semifinals that spring and was traded to the Cavaliers in the deal that brought Kyrie Irving to Boston that summer. And Thomas has been unable to overcome the persistent hip issues since.
He has appeared in just 84 NBA games over the last four years. Last season he played 40 games with the Wizards before being traded to the Clippers in February and subsequently waived. He underwent another hip procedure last summer, though, and has been working his way back into form.
Last month he played for Team USA in the FIBA AmeriCup, and he has parlayed that into another chance in the NBA.
“I’m sure Isaiah’s going to kill it when he gets that opportunity,” Stevens said. “I’m sure it’s going to lead to a long-term opportunity, as we all hope.”
The Pelicans have been ravaged by injuries recently. Zion Williamson, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball all missed Friday’s game against the Hawks. New Orleans faces the Rockets Sunday.
Praise for Tatum, Brown
All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have emerged as the clear cornerstones of this Celtics franchise. But they are just 23 and 24, respectively, so Stevens said they will continue to grow into leadership roles as their careers progress.
“They’ll have this year, whatever it turns out to be, to lean on as another opportunity to reach back and say, ‘I’ve lived this and I can help us navigate this,’ ” Stevens said. “So I think the most important thing that young players can do when talking about leading is they can lead by example with their play on both ends, and they can be accountable. And I think, for the most part, they deserve high marks in those areas, and especially accountability. Those guys don’t chirp from the responsibility, they don’t point fingers at other people, and they have been really receptive to growth, and they deserve credit for that.”
Langford not ready to play
Celtics wing Romeo Langford remained out for Friday’s game against the Rockets as he works to regain his conditioning after being sidelined because of COVID-19 for three weeks.
Langford missed the first half of this season while recovering from offseason wrist surgery and was set to debut against the Nets March 11, but he tested positive for the coronavirus. He passed his cardiovascular tests last weekend and was initially cleared to play against the Mavericks Wednesday, but he was held out because he simply had not had enough time to get back into game shape.
“Romeo’s just not ready to play,” Stevens said. “Even [Thursday] we did a little film thing with the team and he played some five-on-five up and down, and he just doesn’t feel ready, doesn’t feel comfortable. I think we’re days, not weeks, away. But coming back off the last two weeks has been difficult from a physical standpoint.”
Center Tristan Thompson, meanwhile, rejoined the team Friday for the first time since testing positive for COVID-19 in early March. He is expected to undergo cardiovascular testing this weekend and then likely will begin his own conditioning program. Stevens said forward Semi Ojeleye, who has missed the last four games because of a side strain, likely will return late next week.