- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Three years ago, Isaiah Thomas sat at his TD Garden locker during his first season in Boston and looked up.

“They keep shipping me out,” he said.

Thomas was referring to the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. Those two places didn’t take him for what he was, a miniature scoring machine that had worked from the last pick in the 2011 draft to a force in the league. They instead looked at his deficiencies. Too small. Bad defender. Shoot-first point guard. It was Boston that unlocked Thomas. Last season, he was voted second-team All-NBA. He was introduced last at home games and was feted with usual New England gusto for working through personal tragedy and a busted tooth in the playoffs.

Now, the Celtics have also shipped him out.

Thomas, forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick were traded to Cleveland for point guard Kyrie Irving on Tuesday night. The move is stunning in both historical and contemporary terms. No pair of 25-point scorers had been swapped in the same trade before, according to Elias Sports. No No. 1 overall pick has been moved to acquire the last pick of a draft and pieces. No one can foresee when the NBA offseason will settle. It has the predictability of an intoxicated squirrel.

What does this mean in the Eastern Conference? In all, not much, at least not this season. Cleveland will still be the mark. Boston will be capable, if revamped, and able to fight for the front of the conference. Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee are expected to give those two teams a push. Little in the layout of the conference has changed.

It’s an odd transaction outside of the financial ramifications. The move drags the Cavaliers’ mighty luxury tax bill down $19 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Thomas is in the final year of his contract. LeBron James is on yet another one-year deal. They could both be out of Cleveland after next season. That’s why the pick from Brooklyn, which could end up being No. 1 overall and possibly Michael Porter Jr., was so crucial for the Cavs. Considering Irving’s prior demand for a trade, the haul for his services was significant.

The trade prevents Boston from paying Thomas a maximum contract next summer to retain him. Thomas had been quoted multiple times that whoever pays his next contract will have to “backup the Brink’s truck” to complete the deal. The challenge for Thomas is that he is going to be 29 years old when this contract ends. He also has a hip issue that teams will need to be sure about. Irving is under contract for at least two seasons. If he opts out of the third, or even remains, the Celtics have created a bridge to their youngsters with multiple years of Irving for roughly $60 million. Thomas would have cost them $100 million more.

The Celtics now have a younger, cheaper overall, version of Thomas. Irving, 25, scored 25.2 points per game last season with an effective field-goal rate of 53.5. Thomas averaged 28.9 points with an eFG of 54.6 on a team with fewer offensive options than Cleveland had. Neither plays defense.

Trading Thomas is a final, and major, move in the three-month reconstruction of the Celtics. Only one of its starting five from last season remains: Al Horford. He’s played one season in Boston. Irving, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Horford are the most likely starters now for the Celtics. The bench rotation will key on two youngsters, rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year player Jaylen Brown. Only Horford, Brown, Terry Rozier and Smart remain from a team that went to the Eastern Conference Final last season. Expect to hear Boston coach Brad Stevens say over and over that the whole team is new, and that things will take time.

Thomas slides into Irving’s spot in Cleveland. Not much has changed there. Playing with James should make his scoring life easier since there was no comparable threat or facilitator alongside him in Boston. The Cavaliers need to brace for what happens next summer. They could instantly become an also-ran.

This swap also emboldens the Wizards’ front office. Their pursuit, for better or worse, was continuity with their in-house players. They paid a bundle to make it happen after whiffing on Kevin Durant and Kelly Oubre Jr. not rapidly developing into a reliable player. They know who will be their load-bearers for the next four seasons. Boston and Cleveland can’t say that. The question is if it will matter.

In their press release to announce the trade, Boston team president Danny Ainge and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck lauded Thomas.

“Isaiah embodied what it meant to be a Celtic. He captured fans’ hearts not only with his spirit, but his personality,” Ainge said.

“Isaiah’s playoff performance under very difficult circumstances will live on in history, and we wish them all the best,” Grousbeck said.

Then, they shipped him out.

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