CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Isaiah Thomas has been a Cleveland Cavalier for more than a month now yet he still laments the painful trade that sent him to Cleveland and carries ill feelings against president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
Thomas said in a Sports Illustrated story this week that he may never again speak with Ainge after the stunning trade that sent him to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving. Thomas, a Celtics fan favorite, played through a torn hip labrum and the tragic death of his sister to carry the club to the Eastern Conference finals. He has freely admitted he was hurt by the trade.
Thomas is not expected to play until January while recovering from the hip injury, and the Celtics wanted to get Irving, who has two more years on his contract, and not deal with the possibility of having to pay Thomas a maximum salary next season.
The Celtics have been trying to move on from the deal as Irving gains comfort in Boston. But coach Brad Stevens addressed Thomas’s remarks.
“I don’t want to comment on that because that’s Isaiah,” Stevens said on Thomas’s feelings toward Ainge. “One of the things I think Danny would second on that is what we all love about Isaiah, is Isaiah is super tough and always thrived with that chip on his shoulder. Isaiah knows how I feel about him. He knows how Danny feels about him. He knows how we feel about him.”
Stevens said in the story that texting Thomas after the trade to express his gratitude and remorse was extremely difficult. The trade was one of the more stunning NBA moves in the offseason.
“It was certainly very emotional,” Stevens said. “Obviously it was Isaiah and Jae [Crowder], who you’d spent a lot of time with. [The trade] was not something you anticipated. We had an idea that once we signed Gordon [Hayward], we knew something had to be done to clear the cap space for him. So we knew that ultimately there was going to be a trade.
“With the Isaiah and Jae trade, that was such an unusual situation, that we would have a trade between these two teams with those caliber of players on both sides. That kind of initial jarring makes it really tough. And the emotional feel you have for the guys who are now gone. I can’t say enough good things about Avery [Bradley], Kelly [Olynyk], Isaiah, Jae, you go down the list, those guys were on the team the last few years.”
A 4-0 preseason
The Celtics finished their shortened preseason 4-0 with a 108-100 win over the Charlotte Hornets Wednesday, as the club played its regulars extensive minutes in preparation for Tuesday’s season opener against the Cavaliers.
Marcus Morris made his Celtics debut and scored 7 points in 11 minutes as the team made a concerted effort to integrate him into the offense as a stretch-4. On one sequence, the Celtics ran a frantic fast break with Morris trailing, and he took in a pass for an open 3-pointer that he drained.
Stevens said he wanted to give his main rotation players considerable time after Irving, Hayward, and Al Horford got the night off Monday against Philadelphia. Irving finished with 16 points and 10 assists in 27 minutes and was 8 for 13 from the 3-point line during the preseason.
Stevens used rookie Jayson Tatum to join Irving, Horford, Hayward, and Jaylen Brown. Tatum finished with 8 points in 23 minutes. He was 13-for-35 shooting in the four preseason games.
The Celtics led most of the final three quarters until the Hornets reserves rallied to tie against their Boston counterparts. Shane Larkin, fighting for a job as the third point guard, sealed the game with a pair of 3-point plays. Boston shot 50.6 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line (16 for 32).
“I thought our first group played pretty well,” Stevens said. “There were some things we need to do better but we had some real moments. We had a couple of things we needed to improve on from the first time we played [the Hornets] and in some circumstances I think we showed that. It was something to move forward and it becomes real Tuesday.”
Hayward and Horford each hit three 3-pointers.
The team will take Thursday off and then practice Friday and Saturday in preparation for Cleveland. The Celtics also will have to pare their roster to the mandatory 15 by Monday.
Baynes is ‘better’
The Celtics received good news on the left knee injury to center Aron Baynes. After tweaking it in the team’s preseason win over the 76ers, Baynes was “better” than expected Wednesday and considered day-to-day, according to Stevens. Baynes did not make the trip to Charlotte.
Baynes could emerge as an occasional starter.
Meanwhile, reserve swingman Daniel Theis was considered out with general soreness but rallied during pregame and was eligible to play. Stevens said he has learned much about Theis, the 6-foot 8-inch German product who spent the past three seasons with Brose Bamberg.
“He’s a guy that can roll to the rim, he gets there quickly,” Stevens said. “He’s certainly capable of spacing [the floor]. He can play with other bigs. He can play with Al. He can play with Baynes. But he’s done a good job.”
Brown raises hand
The Celtics lost their players’ union representative when Olynyk signed with the Miami Heat. The new one is likely to be Brown, who turns 21 Oct. 24. He has wanted to become active in the players association.
First, however, the NBPA has to visit the Celtics in the coming weeks and there has to be a players vote on the union representative.
Brown is hoping to be elected and has bigger aspirations in the future.
“I told them that I wanted to do it,” Brown said.
“I’ll probably reach out before [the meeting] and tell them that I’d like to do it,’’ Brown said. “Hopefully I can get it done, continue to do that for the next few years and one day be the [union] president.”
“Whoever wants to step up and do it, I don’t think anybody [else] does. But it will probably be an easy transition. This is definitely one of the steps [I wanted to take].