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.
The Boston Celtics were first team to call restricted free agent Isaiah Thomas when free agency started, per source. Danny Ainge called.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 1, 2014
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.
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.