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Gary Washburn | On basketball

Isaiah Thomas wants chance to measure up with Celtics

Isaiah Thomas displayed his aggressive offensive game on this drive between Lakers Jeremy Lin (left) and Ed Davis.Chris Carlson/AP

LOS ANGELES — It seems in his previous two NBA stops, especially Sacramento, Isaiah Thomas was a victim of his own success. He was penalized for his overachievement, constantly serving as a threat to players who were drafted higher, expected to do more.

There was Jimmer Fredette, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vazquez, all tabbed to take Thomas’s minutes. Examining the first 3½ seasons of his career, Thomas’s ability to run an offense, play unselfishly, and defend bigger players has been constantly challenged.

He wants his tenure in Boston to serve as a fresh start, even though he believed he was starting fresh just seven months ago with the Phoenix Suns, when general manager Ryan McDonough thought it would be an inventive idea to team three ball-dominating guards in the same backcourt.


The combination made Goran Dragic unhappy, enough to demand a trade while Thomas was moved because McDonough decided Brandon Knight was a better option than any he previously had.

The trade doesn’t appear to affect Thomas’s confidence. He is a career 15.3 points-per-game scorer in just 28.5 minutes. He is one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the NBA.

But what he doesn’t want to occur here that did in Sacramento is an emphasis on his shortcomings. He said Sunday before making his Celtics debut against the Lakers that he just wants to ball.

“I was surprised. I know Danny Ainge has wanted me for a long time,” he said. “It’s just how it happened, so last-minute. I am happy. Another team wanted me. Hopefully I can be here for a while and make things happen.”

Thomas and Ainge watched Friday’s game against Sacramento back in Boston before the guard took his physical. They talked basketball.

“All the things he was saying, you could tell it was just genuine,” Thomas said. “He’s wanted me since my days at Washington. He watched me in the [2010] Maui Invitational and thought I was just as good as [Connecticut’s] Kemba Walker. He told me that. I’ve known he’s wanted me for a long time and I am happy to be somewhere that I’m wanted. Hopefully I’m here for a while.”


Thomas has no intention of making demands. The Celtics’ young backcourt of Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley is defensive-minded. It needs another scorer.

“I fit in with anybody; you’ve got a basketball and a hoop, I’ll fit in,” said Thomas, who had 21 points before getting ejected in the fourth quarter in the overtime loss to the Lakers. “I was just on a new team five months ago. It’s tough but at the same time guys are friendly. I’m just happy to be somewhere that they appreciate me and hopefully I can make the city fall in love.”

The theme of his first media session as a Celtic was receiving a fair chance, the hope of finding an organization that is truly invested in him.

“Nothing was ever given to me,” he said. “I’ve had to take whatever that I got. That’s been my life story. I’ve been blessed to be in the position I’m in but at the same time, I’ve always had to go in and battle and compete and I like that — as long as it’s about competition, may the best man win, I’m all for it. When it’s about winning, that’s what it should be about.”


Thomas does not allow his size — he’s 5 feet 9 inches — to serve as a deterrent. He is considered one of the league’s pure scorers but what has adversely affected his career is being stereotyped as merely a scorer or tabbed as selfish.

“I sat with college coaches when he committed to us before he signed,” said University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. “They would just say, ‘Oh boy, he drives me crazy, he doesn’t give up the ball.’ Me personally, I like the fact that he could go get you a bucket and take over a game.”

Romar, who played five NBA seasons and coached several NBA players while an assistant at UCLA and head coach at Washington, said he had no question whether Thomas could flourish at the NBA level, even though many scouts and teams did.

“One thing I learned about Isaiah is you can’t put anything past him,” Romar said. “He’s like Nate [Robinson]. They have such big wills to be successful. A lot of kids give lip service but they don’t work on it like those guys. Isaiah is fearless. He’s the only guy who doesn’t know he’s 5-9.

“He’ll do whatever it takes to get it done. He’s not a guy you feel sorry for because he’s smaller. He will cut your heart out.”

Romar believes Thomas has been miscast as a point guard. “He’s a basketball player who happens to be 5-9,” the coach said, adding Thomas is misunderstood because of his talents.


“He has a will to win that’s very contagious,” Romar said. “When he’s out there on that floor, he just kind of inspires you to go out and give it your all yourself. I don’t think enough people understand that. That bothers me.”

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.