Isiah Thomas hasn’t spoken to Jaylen Brown since the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs. But the Piston legend, a mentor to Brown from their ties to Cal, has prepared the advice he will give when next they chat.
“Take the money,” Thomas told Heavy Sports through a laugh.
Brown still has a year left on his Boston contract, but because of his second team All-NBA selection, he is eligible to sign a supermax extension of five years and some $290 million this summer.
“Take the money,” Thomas repeated.
But, to the Hall of Famer, it’s about more than a simple transaction. It’s dollars and sense.
Thomas Nudged Danny Ainge to Draft Jaylen Brown
Prior to the 2016 draft, Thomas encouraged Danny Ainge to draft Brown at No. 3 when the 6-foot-6 swingman generally wasn’t projected that high.
When Brown was taken after Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram on that June night, Thomas texted me: “Love that he’s with the C’s”.
Later that evening when we spoke, Isiah said, “When I got to know Jaylen Brown and how he played, I said to him — and this is before the draft process started — I said to him, ‘You’re a Celtic.’ He fits the Celtic culture that I played against, that I competed against. That I know.”
According to Thomas, Brown still very much fits with Boston and the Celtics “intellectually and spiritually.”
“Yeah, he’s been great there,” Thomas told Heavy. “He’s had a great career there, and he’s become one of the best players in the league. They’ve done well, and he’s done well there. It’s been a win-win, I think, for him and for the Celtics.”
While the memories of Brown’s eight turnovers in the Celtics’ collective crumble in Game 7 against Miami linger, Thomas can refer to Jaylen’s career-highs of 26.6 points on 49% shooting this season.
As for the Celts’ fall from grace, losing as a No. 2 seed to the eighth-seeded Heat, Thomas took a wider view.
“Hey, I don’t care how talented your team is, when half of your coaching staff walks out of the door, that’s going to affect you,” he said. “That’s just how it goes. You lose your head coach and your top two assistants, you’re going to be impacted by that.
“You take any team in the NBA and you take the head coach and the top two assistants off the team, one at the start of the season, one (in the offseason) and then one in the middle of the season, it’s going to impact you. When you lose that from the bench, that affects you.”
When it was suggested that the Celtics had failed in other years, as well, to maintain their mental toughness and focus, Thomas said, “Well, that’s where coaching comes in, you know? Coaching helps.”
Thomas Understands Mental Hurdle
But then came the counter: You never needed Daddy Rich (aka former Pistons coach Chuck Daly) to give you nuggets, did you, Zeke?
“Oh, yes I did,” Thomas said. “Hey, Daddy Rich, all the times he had been in the Boston Garden losing with the Philadelphia 76ers as an assistant coach, then them coming back and finally winning, his storytelling was important to us, in terms of, you know, ‘You’ve got to keep plugging away.’ He talked about Dr. J and those guys. So, yeah, coaching helps. That storytelling helps.”
The Celtics have now been to the conference finals five times and to the NBA Finals once in Jaylen Brown’s seven seasons. Thomas can relate to a team taking years to break through, though his situation with the 1980s Pistons had a more singular obstacle.
“It was different for us, because the Celtics — that Celtics team — is one of the top three or four teams to ever play the game of basketball,” he said. “So our trying to get through them is totally different than these teams trying to get through what they’re going through. Our mental hurdle, in my opinion, was much tougher.
“But trying to win a championship at the NBA level for a professional basketball player, there’s no tougher thing that you’ll try to do in your life.”
And Thomas will be happy for Brown and the Celtics if they get there. That may seem odd for a Piston to say, considering the depth of that decades-old rivalry.
But as Thomas said on the night Brown was drafted when asked about aiding the enemy, “It doesn’t feel weird for me. Because, like I’ve told you before, the Celtics were our mentors. They were our teachers. They were the masters of the game. So we as pupils, even though we grew up and we beat them, they’re still the masters.”