BOSTON – In Danny Ainge’s line of work, difficult conversations with players are a given.
But the talk Ainge had to have with Isaiah Thomas about being traded to Cleveland, stands out from all the rest.
“It was one of the most difficult conversations I ever had,” Ainge told CSN following the introductory press conference for Irving and Gordon Hayward on Friday. “I.T., everybody in Boston is grateful for I.T. and all that he’s done.”
- Irving, Gordon Hayward introduced as Celtics
- Irving: It was 'awesome' playing with LeBron James
- Hayward on Tom Brady: I'm still a Colts guy
The Celtics have put together a Big Three that consists of Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Irving with Thomas playing a pivotal role in all three being in Celtics uniforms today.
Thomas was instrumental in recruiting Horford and Hayward to sign with Boston. And because of his play with the Celtics, the Cavaliers agreed to trade Irving for a package that included Thomas, a two-time All-Star who led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring (28.9 points per game) last season.
“We wouldn’t be here today with Kyrie and Gordon and Al Horford, if I.T. didn’t exist,” Ainge said. “If I.T. hadn’t helped us get back on the map. . . we’re probably not sitting here having this press conference. Gordon Hayward probably isn’t impressed with the team. Horford and everything else.”
When Thomas arrived, the Celtics were in the second year of their rebuild after trading away franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on draft night in 2013.
Thomas helped the Celtics get to the postseason in his first year where they were swept by Irving and the Cavs in the first round.
The following year, the Celtics were eliminated in the first round once again, only this time it was at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks with the series lasting six games.
This past season, Boston finished with the best record in the East and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals where they were knocked off by Cleveland in five games.
Hayward acknowledged not having Thomas around is unusual considering he was among the key Celtics players to try and recruit him to Boston, Hayward knows all too well that in the NBA the only thing you can count on happening sooner or later, is change.
“Sometimes these things, change, it happens,” Hayward said in an exclusive interview with CSN. “I learned that in Utah my rookie year.”
Legendary Jazz coach Jerry Sloan unexpectedly resigned as head coach which was soon followed by All-Star point guard Deron Williams being traded.
“Those things happen,” said Hayward who added, “then you’re presented with Kyrie Irving coming to Boston to play with him, another tremendous player. I couldn’t be more excited.”