The big winner of Thursday’s Cavaliers-Lakers trade, in which Cleveland sent Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and its 2018 first-round pick to Los Angeles for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. was … Paul Pierce! Now the longtime former Celtics star is assured of having the spotlight all to himself when Boston honors him Sunday.
Pierce can rest easy because Thomas is no longer a member of the Cavaliers, who are set to visit the Celtics on Sunday afternoon at 3:30, when Boston retires the No. 34 jersey of “The Truth.” The timing of that matchup had become awkward, as the Celtics had also planned on showing a video tribute to Thomas, who spent two-plus seasons of great productivity in Boston before being traded to Cleveland in an offseason package for Kyrie Irving.
Pierce made it clear that he wasn’t thrilled with that initial arrangement, claiming that Thomas had missed his best window of opportunity when the Cavaliers visited Boston earlier in the season. At that time, though, Thomas was still recovering from a hip injury, and as he wasn’t playing and his family wasn’t set to be in attendance, he asked that the Celtics push his video tribute back to the second and final of Cleveland’s trips to TD Garden during this regular season.
Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge indicated in January that the looming conflict would not be a problem for anyone, saying, “I think [a video honoring Thomas] won’t interfere with Paul. And Paul understands that. Everybody understands that. It’ll be a great game and a great moment. And Isaiah deserves it, in our minds.”
The problem was that Pierce did not quite understand that. Shortly after Ainge’s comments, the 10-time all-star, who helped lead the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title, said on ESPN’s “The Jump” that “I.T. might have to wait till next year.”
“I’m not saying Isaiah shouldn’t get a tribute video. … But on February 11, the night I get my jersey retired, I’m not sure I want to look up at the Jumbotron and see Isaiah highlights,” Pierce said.
Those comments earned Pierce a direct rebuke from Jalen Rose on another ESPN program later that month. “I’ve got to say a word for you, fam — I think it was petty,” Rose said of Pierce’s stance on “NBA Countdown.”
That entertainingly tense exchange was rendered more or less moot by an announcement from Thomas last month that the Celtics should “focus all of their attention” on Pierce on Sunday, given that his planned video tribute had “caused some controversy.” Now, with Thomas a member of the Lakers, who have already made their one trip this season to Boston, there’s no question of Boston honoring anyone but Pierce when the Cavaliers come to visit.
At this point, barring the possibility of Thomas getting released by the Lakers and picked up by the Celtics, any in-person celebration of the guard at TD Garden will have to wait until next season. Of course, there’s no telling which team Thomas will be on at that point, given that he is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
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