Bulpett: Isaiah Thomas still has much to get done for he and the Celtics
NEW ORLEANS — Isaiah Thomas is listed at 185 pounds on the Celtics roster, but clearly that doesn’t include the anvil on his shoulder.
At the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, where he’s being celebrated for his second selection to the game and being praised by his starry mates as a true MVP candidate, Thomas enjoys the love but clings tighter to the slights. Perhaps never has there been someone who so joyously embraces the value of negativity.
But as Thomas enters the event as the second-leading scorer in the league (29.9 ppg to Russell Westbrook’s 31.1), nowhere is heard a discouraging word. There is concern Thomas’ supply of “fuel” will run dry, but not to worry.
“People ask me that,” he said through a persistent smile as he gathered yesterday with fellow stars at the headquarters hotel. “They think the chip will fall if everybody were to love me, but it wouldn’t. I’m built a little different. I find things to motivate me, and if it were to be the other way around, I would find something else that will motivate me to hopefully one day become great.”
Thomas insists that, even as he has gone from the 60th and final pick in the 2011 draft to his present status, he has no trouble finding propellant.
“Because there’s always somebody saying something,” he said. “?‘He can’t lead a team to a championship. He’s a defensive liability. A 5-9 guy can’t go far in the playoffs.’ There’s always something. They give me that fuel to the fire, so I thank the people that doubt.
“I think some people still doubt. Some people still don’t give me my just due and my respect. But all I say is I’m going to keep going. I’ve got more to show. I feel like I can continue to get better, and it’s only the beginning.”
Asked to produce evidence that people still don’t understand how good he is, Thomas said, “They’ve always got something to say, but at the end of the day, it always comes back to my height. If I was 6-1, they would probably call me the best player in the world. And I’m not 6-1, so it’s always something. It’s been like that my whole life, so I’m not surprised.”
Even when Danny Ainge brought him to Boston in a deadline deal two years ago tomorrow and told him he could be one of the greatest Celtics ever, Thomas couldn’t let himself accept the compliment fully.
“I thought he was lying,” he said. “I thought he just was trying to make me feel better about the trade, coming from Phoenix to Boston. But he saw something that I didn’t even see, and now I’m starting to see it. I’m not saying I’m one of the best ever to put on a Celtics uniform, but I want to be in that direction.”
As for what Ainge saw, Thomas said, “I mean, what he seen is what I always knew. I just didn’t think about the Celtics’ legend thing. When you think about the Celtics, they’ve got so many great players, you’re not even thinking about being on that level. But the things he envisioned for myself, I always believed in myself if given the opportunity. I just didn’t know how much opportunity I would have when I came to the Celtics.”
And as he passes John Havlicek for most consecutive games with 20 or more points and approaches Larry Bird’s franchise record for single season scoring average (he’s currently tied), Thomas is not blind to the significance.
“It means everything,” he said. “To be mentioned with such great players like Larry Bird, like all the legends that played before me in the Celtics uniform, it means a lot. One day, one of my goals is to be MVP of this league. They’ve never seen a small guy get it, and that would be not just an achievement for myself, but all the little people out there.
“My job is to pave the way for the next little guy, so I’m just trying to open up doors for the small guys in the next generation.”
Fans at the Garden have been hitting Thomas with the “MVP, MVP” chant for a while, but he didn’t feel he was in the race with Westbrook and James Harden until “maybe a couple of weeks ago. Maybe a month ago. When you guys started talking about it. It’s a great moment. I’m just trying to stay in the moment. I know winning takes care of individual success, and that’s most important right now. I’m going to continue to do my part, but I’ve just got to win, I’ve just got to win. That’s most important.”
Important to Thomas, as well, is the validation of others in the league.
“I mean, when your peers respect you, that means more than anything, because they’re the ones you’re going out there every night competing against,” he said. “Your peers know who the real good basketball players are, so that’s just a sign of respect, and I appreciate their love. But I’ve got to keep going. I’m not satisfied with where I am, and I feel like I’ve got more to prove.”
Not satisfied at all. Isaiah Thomas still has goals. Big ones.
“It was last year to be the greatest little guy to ever play the game, but now, things moving like they are, I want to be the greatest player to ever play,” he said. “I know I’ve got a long way to go. I’m not even close, but you’ve got to shoot high.”
Thomas may not reach all his objectives, but shooting high? That will never be an issue.