When asked about whether there was any chance Isaiah Thomas would return to the Boston Celtics this summer by a fan, the former Boston All Star point guard didn't rue it out. On the surface, this is both surprising and intriguing - you'd think there'd be a permanent falling-out between the organization and Thomas after being unceremoniously dumped this summer despite the man playing through a family death, busted grill and injured hip.
That hip has been as much of a factor for his second trade in less than six months as his mouth was (and I'm not talking about dental work), when the Cleveland Cavaliers retooled their struggling roster for a package of players from the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, the latter team serving as landing spot for the guard after his outsized demands for a rehabilitating player contributed to a toxic environment that has been the primary narrative this season in the northeast corner of Ohio.
Upon closer inspection, however, it seems unlikely at best, given the fact that no team can pay Isaiah more the Lakers, who may look to IT as a backup option on a short-years deal should they whiff on attracting two top-level free agents with hard-earned cap space Thomas helped make possible in the first place. Yet another instance of serving as ballast is probably not IT's cup of tea, but if money is his concern, it's likely his best crack at big bucks before his game takes a nosedive for good.
He could, of course, get lucky if a rebuilding team wants a player who will sell some tickets, but with so few teams looking to have cap space above the taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE) of $8.8 million, and at least as many players in a strong free agency field likely to meet or exceed IT's level of interest, a Boston return would require either a sign-and-trade or the Celtics' desire to expend their own MLE on a player who has not exactly shown himself to be a locker-room boon when disaffected.
Isaiah Thomas will most definitely be looking for a new home this off-season:
Of course, he's got plenty of reasons to be irked, but chemistry issues aside, it's hard to think of ballast from Boston's roster around or above the level of the MLE that would make sense, and with the free agency of several key players up for consideration (Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe) with the specter of repeater tax being triggered too early into the young core's title window, it would take some very creative moves to bring IT back into the fold without losing more than one of those three free agents.
The idea of Thomas back in green is certainly a pleasant one, but while Isaiah is certainly right in his paraphrasing of Kevin Garnett's famous line that "anything can happen", it's probably not worth putting too much stock in such a reunion given all the potential barriers for it to happen.