Danny Ainge said trading Isaiah “the toughest call I ever had to make”

Kurt Helin
NBC Sports

Danny Ainge followed his contrarian gut and bet big this summer on revamping the Celtics’ roster. He traded away the No. 1 pick because he was a big believer in Jayson Tatum (and was not as sold on Markelle Fultz as much as everyone else). Then he traded a much coveted Brooklyn Nets pick to bring in Kyrie Irving to be the best player on a 53-win team.

Also out in that trade was Isaiah Thomas, a guy who had poured his heart and soul into being a Celtic for a couple of seasons, including playing through injuries and family tragedies. Celtics fans embraced him. Celtics president Danny Ainge intellectually understood why he needed to trade Thomas, but told the Boston Globe it was not an easy call.

“It was definitely the toughest call I ever had to make. 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.”

“It’s not easy for these office people that become great friends with the players. There’s a reality that I see and that’s what makes any sort of trade challenging. But it’s just part of the world that we live in, but it’s got to be done. You’ve got to do what’s best for the franchise. The franchise is bigger than all of us. Bigger than one individual.”

A lot of GMs will say the same thing, especially about players they like and respect. Some guys are harder to trade than others, and Thomas — despite how much he has moved around in his career — is high on that list.

Thomas was an All-NBA player last season, but Ainge made the smart bet long term — Thomas was as good or better than Irving last season, but no question three years from now any team would rather have Irving. If Irving buys into what Brad Stevens asks of him in Boston, if he distributes a little more, works with Gordon Hayward, and defends a bit more, he could grow into what Ainge envisions as a franchise player on a title team.

Thomas was understandably hurt by the trade but has started to turn his focus to getting healthy and helping the Cavaliers make a title run.  What’s been interesting since the trade is to watch Celtics fans suddenly downplay the importance of the Brooklyn pick — “oh, it could be eight or ninth, the Nets aren’t that bad” when they actually are — as well as what Jae Crowder can bring to a playoff team. Also, they are good with trading Thomas now, when most didn’t want that a few months ago. That’s not to say Ainge shouldn’t have made the trade, but fan bases (by their very nature) will change their perceptions of things to what gives them the most positive outlook. So Celtics fans think this is a steal now.

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