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Isaiah Thomas: ‘Danny Ainge was 1st person to call me’

11.17.14 at 11:48 pm ET
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Other than the late addition of Evan Turner at a bargain basement price over the summer, the Celtics came away from NBA free agency empty-handed, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made at least one attempt at a big-name player of small stature.

Moments after free agency opened on July 1, Ainge called point guard Isaiah Thomas.

“Danny Ainge was the first person to call me at 12:01 a.m.,” Thomas said, “so if that’€™s interest, then I guess so.”

Thomas actually missed the call, but exchanged messages with Ainge before his agent Andy Miller took over negotiations. So, was the feeling mutual?

“I was interested in whoever was interested in me,” Thomas added, “so he was definitely a little interested if he was the first one to call me, but they went their ways and I went mine.”

Thomas’ way ultimately took him to Phoenix, where he landed by way of a sign-and-trade deal with the Sacramento Kings. His agent reportedly reached a four-year, $28 million deal with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who worked under Ainge for 10 seasons before finishing runner-up in the NBA’s Executive of the Year voting in his first season in Phoenix.

Thomas was notably one of six players last season to average 20 points and six assists per game. The others: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook. Had Thomas not been 5-foot-9, he would have easily commanded double-digit millions annually. Instead, he joined Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to form Phoenix’s potent three-guard attack.

(For the record, Bledsoe, a pricier restricted free agent, said Ainge did not contact him directly this summer. What about his agent? “Not that I know of. I don’t think they did.”)

As for the Celtics‘ way, it’s unclear why Ainge had so much interest in Thomas. They were five days removed from drafting point guard Marcus Smart. Presumably, the C’s had a deal in place to re-sign Avery Bradley, since news of his four-year, $32 million deal broke on July 2. Thomas would have been a massive upgrade over Phil Pressey, but the logjam in the Celtics backcourt currently limited their own diminutive point guard to a total of three minutes with a healthy Smart in the lineup for the first four games. All of which brings us to Rajon Rondo.

The Celtics captain is entering the final year of his contract, and Thomas had been rumored to be part of a package the Kings offered in exchange for Rondo this past February. It’s a bit presumptuous to assume Ainge was calling Thomas about a sign-and-trade deal that would have shipped Rondo to Sacramento, but it’s not out of the question the phone call to Thomas at the moment free agency opened was insurance for Rondo’s potentially imminent departure.

After all, it’s hard to imagine the Celtics would enter this season with Rondo, Bradley, Smart and Thomas all in the fold. Likewise, it doesn’t make much sense for Ainge to place his first call of free agency to Thomas unless he was serious about signing the 25-year-old, especially when the C’s had so many other needs on their roster other than point guard.

So, while nothing ever amounted from the C’s interest in Thomas, the fact they called in the first place is fascinating.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, NBA, Rajon Rondo
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