After not appearing in a game since Feb. 3, 2020, Isaiah Thomas has deservingly worked his way back into the NBA. The former Boston Celtics MVP candidate and two-time All-Star agreed to a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday as he’ll look to add a scoring punch to their injury-ridden backcourt.
Thomas’ former head coach Brad Stevens addressed the 32-year-old’s signing with reporters prior to the Celtics’ victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night, in which Stevens was clearly elated for his once-franchise centerpiece.
The latest Celtics news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Celtics newsletter here!
Brad Stevens on Thomas Signing With Pels: ‘Isaiah’s Going to Kill it’
“I watched him play with Team USA and communicated with him a little bit around there, and I’m really happy for him,” Stevens claimed. “I sent (Pelicans coach) Stan (Van Gundy) a text today right afterwards. Obviously, I can’t say enough good things about Isaiah.”
Thomas helped lead USA Basketball to two victories in a qualifying tournament for the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup back in February. The 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pounder flashed glimpses of his once-elite offensive arsenal, showing solid explosiveness while compiling 28 points and shooting 50% from 3-point range (6-of-12) over his two games.
“I’m brought back to how much I appreciate the way that that team played, and he was obviously the leader of the group,” Stevens said of Thomas. “But he was so special here and so special to be around that you want the best for him, and this is a great opportunity.”
Stevens continued, “I’m sure Isaiah’s going to kill it when he gets that opportunity. I’m sure it’s going to lead to a long-term opportunity, as we all hope.”
Thomas’ Storied, Short-Lived Run With the Celtics
Stevens coached Thomas from 2015 through 2017, in which the point guard headed one of the more memorable and beloved stints of Celtics basketball in recent memory. Originally playing behind the likes of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight with the Phoenix Suns, Thomas was dealt to Boston in exchange for Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick in February of 2015.
From there, Thomas quickly elevated his game under the watchful eye of Stevens. Thomas developed into one of the league’s most feared offensive playmakers. By the 2016-17 season, the diminutive-sized point guard was paying big-time dividends for the Celtics, leading the team to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference and finishing third in NBA MVP voting on the season.
Unfortunately, a career-altering hip injury derailed his standing within the Celtics’ organization and eventually the NBA as a whole. Thomas was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving in 2017. By 2019, he’d spend time with three other organizations (Lakers, Nuggets and Wizards), failing to recapture his pre-injury form.
Despite his flaws — namely defensively, Thomas still proved to be a capable offensive player during his most recent NBA campaign. He averaged 12.2 points and 3.6 assists in 23.1 minutes per game with the Wizards in 2019, also shooting a career-high 41.3% from 3-point range.
Stevens Talks Kelly Olynyk & Avery Bradley
Thomas wasn’t the only ex-Celtics player Stevens reminisced upon on Friday. The head coach also took time to reflect on Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk ahead of their game against the Rockets, two players who had recently made their way to Houston via trade.
“I look across the court today and the Houston team we played a couple of weeks ago is not the team we’re playing today, and two of the guys off the bench were two of our better players on that team as well,” Stevens said. “It’s always good to see all of those guys have success.”