To acquire Kyrie Irving, Boston sent a package headlined by Isaiah Thomas to Cleveland on Tuesday in a trade, which is a procedure that allows NBA franchisees to move players freely without the consent of those players. But don’t tell this guy that— because it would ruin the defense he has prepped for his four new followers on Twitter.
It’s understandably difficult for Boston fans to see Thomas go, as the 5-foot-9 point guard’s handles and scoring ability made him a Celtic folk hero over this past season. And though Thomas had said often how he wished for a new (much richer) contract with the organization, instead he found himself exchanged for a younger, taller model of himself. The knighted King of the Fourth has yet to comment on his new team, but a lot of people are speaking for him.
On Wednesday, Fox Sports 1’s Chris Broussard reported that Thomas had a poor rapport with his teammates. Some former Celtics immediately came to I.T.’s defense, denying that he was ever a problem in the locker room. Kelly Olynyk called the notion “preposterous” and Jared Sullinger said it was “lies, lies, and more lies.” Terry Rozier—now the second-longest-tenured Celtic on the roster, as the Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach will remind you—credited Thomas for inspiring his work ethic, and Jaylen Brown called the jersey burning “pathetic.”
The teammate testimony contrasted so sharply with Broussard’s report that the latter felt tainted, orchestrated by anonymous Boston higher-ups to soften the blow of such a beloved player being dealt away. Broussard continued on Thursday, focusing in on the sourcing of his story—Thomas not being liked by teammates was the perception from executives—people who do, obviously, care about keeping fans happy.
“A couple [executives] brought that up about Isaiah,” Broussard said on Boston sports radio show Kirk & Callahan, “which shocked me because I hadn’t heard anything like that in Boston. Then I asked a few more and they said they had heard the same things. I’m not saying it’s definitely true, obviously if you listen to what I said, I said, ‘Several executives told me this.’”
But players continued coming to Thomas’s defense, including his new partner in Cleveland, who took to Twitter when the slander included burning I.T.’s jersey.
“The burning of the jersey thing is getting ridiculous now!” LeBron James wrote in a string of tweets Thursday. “The man was traded. What do u not understand? & [he] played in a game after [his sister’s] tragic death. Gordon Hayward paid [his] dues as well and decided to do what’s best for him and family. Put in the work, got better … Became an All-Star, etc!! If these guys weren’t good, u guys would be the first to say ‘get them up out of here.’ Man, beat it! When ‘we’ decide to do what [is] best for us it’s ‘cowardly,’ ‘traitor,’ etc. But when it’s on the other side it’s ‘business’ huh!?!? Ooh OK. Man do what u feel is best for your profession, love, family, happiness and continue to #StriveForGreatness #Salute.”
There’s the sense that LeBron is speaking for the larger NBA player community here—and possibly, next summer, for himself—but for the time being, he’s specifically vouching for Isaiah, his new playmaker. And despite the accounts of a few anonymous executives, the people around the league who’ve been in locker rooms enough to know him are, too.