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Report: Celtics Interested In Kings Point Guard Isaiah Thomas

I don’t think I really need to tell you why this is significant, do I?

According to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, the Celtics were one of the first teams to contact Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas when free agency struck.

Let’s start with Isaiah Thomas. Thomas is a volume scorer with a PER of 20.5 who put up 20.3 points per game on a bad Kings team last season. That’s not a knock on him: Only 20 of the 400-plus players in the NBA averaged 20 per game, and only a few more could have done so with the requisite shot attempts. Thomas, who is due a new deal that is bound to be considerably more lucrative than the last-pick-of-the-second-round contract he is currently being paid, didn’t shoot particularly well from 3-point range (34.9 percent), but he showed he can knock them down off the bounce around pick-and-rolls, and he shot an impressive 50.2 percent inside the arc. As you can see from his shot chart, he was absurdly effective from the left side of the floor.

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 8.57.47 AM

Given Thomas’ height, shooting 54.6 percent around the rim is impressive. He’s just 5’9, but he can finish over height and is a creative scorer by necessity.

Thomas can be a little shot-happy as a point guard, but at 57.4 true shooting percentage and with Marcus Smart as a backcourt mate, that would be fine. He is a demonstrably better shooter than Smart, but Smart is a demonstrably better distributor whose shot selection is likely to improve in the NBA. Thomas is a solid on-ball defender who plays extremely hard, but the natural limitations afforded to him by his height are a problem. But with Smart in the backcourt as well, the Celtics could hide Thomas on less effective guards where his pesky defense would be a problem, leaving Smart the brunt of the defensive work.

Please note that in these scenarios, Isaiah Thomas is the starting point guard on the Celtics sharing a backcourt with Marcus Smart. That’s because I buried my lede. 

The real reason this is newsworthy isn’t Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics were the first, but they were far from the last team to contact the Kings’ point guard. Dallas, Detroit and Phoenix — among many others — have inquired about him, and others will follow. You don’t score 20 points per game and go unnoticed in the NBA.

But it’s very easy to connect the dots to Rajon Rondo. There’s really no reason Thomas would sign with the Celtics to be a back-up point guard. Plenty of teams will be willing to offer him a starting role. Additionally, there’s really no reason he and Rondo could share a backcourt, especially on the defensive end. Rondo is a smart defender, but he can’t guard shooting guards. In addition, the Celtics have been reportedly talking to the Kings about a variety of deals (including a few for Rondo) for years now. There was the bizarre sixth-pick-for-Ben-McLemore chatter on draft night, as well as DeMarcus Cousins rumors, as well as Rondo-for-the-eighth-pick rumors. Maybe it’s time for these two to stop flirting and just get a room.

Let’s not make this into something it isn’t. Danny Ainge made a call. It’s his job to make a call. Rondo (allegedly) wants $100 million on his next deal, and the Celtics almost certainly don’t want to give him that. This could be something serious, but it could also be a bargaining chip meant to show Rondo that the Celtics can find another point guard if he leaves.

But we also shouldn’t downplay this report. It shows that the Celtics are willing to replace Rondo if need be and that they believe there are point guards available who could get the job done.

Free agency is 10 hours old. This is going to get interesting.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

  • Mark

    Not only could this indicate the Celtics want Rondo out (hope not but it appears to be the case) it should also put to sleep where they project Smart to play. The Celtics clearly do not view Smart as a PG. Smart is a SG.

    • Tom Westerholm

      It’s definitely possible he will play SG, but I don’t think the Celtics are locked in. Smart is playing point guard in Summer League practice.

  • Tyler

    Isaiah Thomas isn’t a volume scorer, he’s very efficient, with a 51.2 career eFG%. Allen Iverson is a volume scorer…not Thomas.

  • Ryan Warner

    Rondo can’t guard SGs? Rondo’s regularly guarded SG–and done it well–when sharing the backcourt with Avery (who guarded the other team’s PG). Rondo’s doesn’t have ideal height to guard SG, but with his length, quickness, strength, and defensive savvy he does quite well.

    Rondo’s best position defensively is probably SG at this point in his career. Allows him to play center field, saves his body from wear-and-tear (from going around picks), and lets him conserve energy for offense. Part of the brilliance of a Rondo/Bradley/Smart backcourt is that it allows Rondo to guard the SG fulltime with Bradley/Smart picking up the PG for 94 feet.

  • hax

    Reports like this just make me wish I could see what our front office is actually planning.
    Are they dropping the ‘let’s start 5 PF’ plan and moving to the 5 PG plan?
    Tell us, Dannyyyyy.

  • hax

    Some ex-Celtics I wouldn’t mind signing for cheap this year.

    Greg Stiemsma
    Jordan Crawford
    Paul Pierce

  • dasein

    This isn’t about bargaining, it’s simply roster building. Danny was always keeping two broad options open: 1. grab a star with current assets, keep Rondo and compete now, or 2. trade Rondo for best value available and go with a youth movement. Like all of us I’m sure his preference would have been 1, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Love isn’t walking through that door. That pretty much leaves only option 2.

    Rondo is probably worth more now than he will be at the trade deadline, because you’d get more use out of him. I’ve been saying for a while that the Kings are the most likely trade partner because they have a meddling owner who wants to win now and also seems open to take on expiring stars without a promise that they’ll resign. They’d also got one or two decent assets. I’d negotiate hard for Stauskas, but need to match salary somehow so a sign and trade for Thomas would make some sense. At the very least Thomas could add a bit of fun during these lean years.

    Still, I’d be surprised if anything happens with Rondo before that Love domino falls…

    • hax

      What happens if the unlikely event of Thomas choosing to sign with the Celtics; then no good Rondo trades appearing?
      Would we even try running both in the back court at the same time? :3

      • dasein

        IT is a restricted FA so it’s not really about where he chooses to go. It’ll be about the $$$. Given that he’s never been paid before, even if he did have the choice it would still most likely be about the $$$. Question is whether Danny is going to make the biggest offer.

        I think Rondo, IT and Smart would be a pretty messy rotation though. Hard to see how that makes much sense, especially if AB is sticking around.

      • Ping

        In the event Rondo is traded, the Kings are a likely suitor and Thomas can be included via S&T.

        I still want Danny to pursue Love, but if, as dasein says, that option is gone we may indeed be looking at a full rebuild. That may mean moving on from Rondo. In that case, getting a package of Thomas, Stauskas and McLemore (or picks) would be a decent haul compared to other potential offers. The Kings are under new ownership that favors a balance of advanced metrics and scouting, so it won’t be easy to pull the wool over on them. Still, a core of Thomas, Smart, Stauskas (he and Thomas being the minimum for any Rondo/SAC deal), Young, Sullinger, and Olynyk isn’t a bad start.

        • Ping

          In addition, if I’m playing couch GM, I would pursue Larry Sanders hard via trade and throw good money at Parsons. Milwaukee may decide to go lean and cut Sanders’ deal, and Parsons has a rare combination of skills.

          Parsons’ miniscule salary the last few years has slightly overrated him as a player (yet to post a PER above 16), but he or Hayward are multi-talented, young assets. I’d much rather take a shot on their continued development than bringing in filler.