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Danny Ainge on Isaiah Thomas trade: 'Toughest call I ever had to make'

Alex Reimer
September 11, 2017 - 8:20 am

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Isaiah Thomas to the Cavaliers last month in a package for Kyrie Irving was a cold-blooded maneuver. Thomas ingratiated himself with Boston during his two-and-a-half years here, catapulting himself into the pantheon of Boston sports stars.

But Ainge saw an opportunity to improve the Celtics, and that’s exactly what he did. That doesn’t mean it was easy for him, however.

“It was definitely the toughest call I ever had to make,” Ainge told the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn recently. “It’s in everybody’s best interest that I don’t share all the reasons (for the trade). But the bottom line is obviously I felt like it was the right thing for our franchise to do. But it’s a deep and complicated process. It’s not as simple as people think it is.

The Cavaliers and Celtics agreed on the trade Aug. 22, sending Thomas to Cleveland along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick. The deal was held up for longer than a week, due to the Cavs’ dissatisfaction with Thomas’ physical. The 5-foot-8 point guard may be out of action until the All-Star Break due to his hip injury, Boston threw in a future second-round draft pick to complete the trade Aug. 31.

In a heartfelt Players’ Tribune essay published last week, Thomas recalled his reaction when Ainge told him on the phone about the move.

“And that’s when, like — man. You ever been on the phone, and someone says something … and then all of a sudden, all you can think about after is, I don’t want to be on the phone anymore? Not even in a rude way. Just, like, your willpower to have a conversation shuts down. That’s what it was like for me in that moment,” he said.

Later in the essay, Thomas talked about how the trade opened his eyes towards the double standard of free agency. He said it was a lesson about who owns the power in professional sports, which he repeated Thursday during his introductory Cavaliers press conference.

Thomas played a starring role in this Celtics renaissance. It was tough for both sides to see him go before he could be part of the finished product. But, as Ainge explained, he thought it was the right thing to do for the betterment of the team. In the cold world of professional sports, oftentimes that trumps all.

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