The rise of Isaiah Thomas has been one of the most fascinating stories in sports in recent memory. Not only was he Mr. Irrelevant of the 2011 NBA draft but, at 5’9″, he quite literally has spent his career looking up at many of his superstar peers.
A forgotten and underutilized talent, his improbable rise to stardom began almost immediately upon joining the Celtics back in 2015, leading his new club to an equally unlikely playoff berth. Since then, “The Little Guy” has continued to defy expectations, and fought his way to two All Star selections and a Conference Finals appearance, joining some of the biggest Celtics legends along the way.
Despite being the unequivocal face of the franchise, questions over a possible contract extension for IT loom large. Still, it may be time for the Celtics to name Isaiah Thomas the captain of the team.
A worthy honor
Thomas really is an unlikely star. Nowadays his face is plastered on billboards and banners across the Hub, but you’d still be excused if you didn’t recognize IT as a professional basketball player. His physical stature makes his offensive prowess all the more spectacular.
He led the Celtics in points and assists last season, logging 28.9 points per game. Perhaps even more amazing, IT averaged 9.8 points in the fourth quarter alone during the 2016-17 campaign, more than earning the title of “King in the Fourth.”
These numbers speak to incredible and critical leadership; Boston couldn’t have won 53 games and two playoff series without Thomas. His undeniable irreplaceability underscores just how vital he has been to the Celtics’ recent success. And given that Isaiah was at the helm for an emotional roller coaster of a postseason run this spring, he cemented his place in Boston sports folklore beyond the stat sheet.
Sharing the floor with fellow All Star Gordon Hayward and exciting prospects like Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum is unlikely to diminish Isaiah’s star-power or guidance. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens understands that his point guard is the emotional standard-bearer for his team, and part of why Boston plays such a determined brand of basketball.
“He just is a guy that constantly strives to improve,” Stevens said of IT this spring. “He wants to be better. He takes every slight as a chip on his shoulder but he also takes every success as a hunger to do more. … He has been exactly what we have needed.”
Importantly, Thomas views himself as someone worthy of a leadership role. His self confidence is an undeniable layer to his story, and it would be difficult to suggest that he isn’t the face of the Celtics franchise.
There’s no player on the roster more worthy of being named captain, and I do believe there’s real merit to give IT the nod, even if his long-term future is in jeopardy. It is, however, worth noting that being named captain may not be as prestigious as it sounds.
A not-so untouchable title
As one of the league’s most storied franchises, Boston has had incredibly iconic captains. From Bob Cousey or Bill Russell to Larry Bird or Dave Cowens, plenty of Hall of Famers have received the designation in the past. More recently, Paul Pierce held the title from 2003 to 2013, a full decade of leadership.
That said, the Celtics have had some less noteworthy captains, meaning the club isn’t always so protective of the epithet. Certainly Isaiah can rub elbows with most of the players on this list.
Thomas is already 34th on the team’s all-time scoring list, sixth in made three-pointers, and this past postseason saw some truly classic performances. His 53-point Game 2 victory in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals is an otherworldly tale. Isaiah Thomas already owns many of the most memorable highlights of this chapter in Celtics basketball, however long it lasts.
In becoming the team’s captain, Thomas would have even more motivation to earn himself a max contract. He has said he “deserves it,” but certainly knows this is contingent on his performance in the next year. They don’t back up Brinks trucks to captains that underperform. His recent thoughts on the matter are illuminating to say the least.
— Nick Gelso (@CLNS_Nick) August 8, 2017
A focus on the present
By not pulling the trigger on a blockbuster trade this summer, most folks assume Danny Ainge is not willing to sacrifice or upend his club’s bright future and crop of young talent. Prior to the news that Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland, at least, it seemed Boston was more content with a fighter’s chance at LeBron than going all in.
Now that Uncle Drew may be on his way out, the Celtics truly have a shot at a Finals berth. The club just added Gordon Hayward at the height of his career, and has some of the most intriguing young players in the league. Ainge’s patience paid off, and the C’s really are able to contend for a title today and tomorrow.
Naming Thomas the captain would be a symbolic gesture that this era isn’t just a bridge where any winning is serendipitous bonus. It would be a way for the team to put their faith and confidence in IT’s leadership and put an emphasis on the 2017-18 season. It would be an honor worthy of Thomas’s skill and of the moment.
Whether he’s playing basketball with Mookie Betts or visiting Patriots training camp, Thomas has cemented himself as one of the leaders of professional sports in Boston. He clearly values his place in the Hub, and his place as a leader in the city.
The franchise should commend and reward that commitment, and select Isaiah Thomas as the next captain of the Boston Celtics.
Please follow me on Twitter @CTabatabaie
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