MEXICO CITY — Overshadowed by Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo facing his former team Thursday in Mexico City is Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas matching up against his first NBA team.
The Kings selected Thomas with the 60th and final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft and he emerged as not only a rotation player but a starter, averaging 15.3 points over three seasons. Sacramento allowed Thomas to leave via a sign-and-trade for a trade exception and the rights to former UConn center Alex Oriakhi, who is playing overseas.
Thomas played briefly for the Phoenix Suns before the Celtics nabbed him at last season's trade deadline. Thomas appeared to have had issues with Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins and swingman Rudy Gay about his running of the offense and shot selection. But Thomas, speaking with the media Wednesday as both teams practiced at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico, had nothing but positive things to say about his time in Sacramento.
"[Sacramento] will always be a home for me, have a special place in my heart," said Thomas. "When the schedule came out I was looking for that Sac game and it was in Mexico. Just seeing those guys and being around them, I'm familiar with most of those guys."
Thomas said he doesn't feel any added motivation facing the Kings.
"I like playing against the Kings because I know so many people there," he said. "It was my first NBA home, the staff members, the trainers, everybody. It's nice to see those guys. But I've moved on, man. I don't have no hard feelings toward Sacramento. I just want to beat them every time we play."
And while there were issues reported between Thomas and Cousins in the past, he had nothing but compliments about his former teammate.
"Best big man in the world, by far," Thomas said. "We were texting the other week and he said something about a move that I made. I said, 'Man, they just have you do everything, shoot threes.' He said, 'Yeah, I'm the new shooting guard. I've got to expand my game.' He's always had it. He's worked on it. I guess he just has the confidence to do it in the games. He's the complete package."
The Celtics arrived in Mexico City on Wednesday and headed to the arena a few hours later for practice. The team views this trip differently than its preseason sojourn to Milan and Madrid. This is the third game of a three-game trip and the Celtics would love to grab a win before heading to San Antonio on Saturday.
"We're here for a day, two days, so we'll treat it as far as preparation goes like probably any other road game," coach Brad Stevens said. "It's exciting to get a chance to play against somebody in a different country, in a new arena. It's not like going away for nine games in certain team-building activities.
"The first question I had was how was our schedule going to look around [the Mexico City game]? Boston is not the closest place to Mexico City, but the way that the NBA set up the schedule around it was difficult as far as who we're playing [Thursday] and when we get back to the States [to play the Spurs], but also appropriate from a travel sense."
With a shootaround at the team's hotel Thursday and not the arena, the players may have an opportunity to explore the city. It's difficult, however, to cherish some of these travel moments when it's a business trip.
"It's fun to see something different," swingman Jonas Jerebko said. "I've been in a lot of countries but never Mexico City. It's kind of tough on a trip like this, we just got in, got practice and go to the hotel, sleep, wake up and have shootaround, sleep and then go to the game. You're not going to get the whole Mexico City trip [experience]. We're just trying to go over here and get this win."
Rondo was riding around after practice on a Segway and taking jumpers . . . A group of Mexican wrestlers appeared at the Kings' practice in full gear and Cousins had a ball lifting the smallest wrestler over his head.