BOSTON — Isaiah Thomas' underdog story appears very much intact.
The 5'9" point guard and very last selection of the 2011 NBA draft is now a two-time NBA castaway.
The Sacramento Kings released Thomas into the free agency waters last offseason despite his 20.3 points per game average in 2013-14. The Phoenix Suns added Thomas to a deep backcourt via a sign-and-trade deal, with high hopes for Thomas to mesh seamlessly with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.
The experiment failed miserably, and the Suns pulled the plug in February, trading Dragic and Thomas at the trade deadline. Thomas landed in Boston, and wasted no time leading an inexperienced Celtics roster back into the playoff race.
Bleacher Report sat down with Thomas this past week to discuss his arrival and future in Boston, and his stops around the league.
Bleacher Report: Joining any kind of locker room in the middle of the season has to be a bit of a challenge. What kind of impact have you had in the Celtics' locker room? Do you just try to blend in, or do you put it on yourself to set a different tone?
Thomas: I’ve always been a leader since I was young. My father always told me, "Never be a follower. Be a leader." That’s been my job. As a point guard, you got to be a leader. These guys look to me to lead, not just vocally but by example. They look for me to do a lot of things, and I accept that challenge.
B/R: How would you say you are different from other top point guards around the league? What separates you?
Thomas: My mentality. I bring it each and every night. I don’t back down from anyone. I play with my heart. I don’t have that big of an advantage when it comes to height, but I just play with my heart and give it my all. That’s my advantage: never giving up.
B/R: What kind of offense do you like to operate in? Is Boston’s scheme much different from the other places you’ve played?
Thomas: In Sacramento, we had one of the best big men in the league in DeMarcus Cousins, but with coach Mike Malone, his system was for me to be able to create and make plays. Boston is similar to Phoenix, where it’s space the floor, pick-and-roll and just make a play.
The difference between here and there, they need me to do it more [in Boston]. They look for me to do it more and be more aggressive. They want me to go out and make a play.
B/R: You had a couple of successful years in Sacramento, then Phoenix let you go halfway through your first season with the team after signing a four-year contract. Do you feel like those teams didn’t realize something about you upon deciding to let you go, or were there just unique circumstances in both spots that led you to Boston?
Thomas: In Sacramento, they were probably just looking for a bigger guard. I don’t know. They were just looking for somebody else. With Phoenix, it’s just, I think they panicked a little bit. They thought it wasn’t working as well as they wanted it to work with a three-guard lineup. That’s what happens in the league, though. Things happen, but you just have to take advantage of each opportunity that you get.
B/R: Goran Dragic wanted out of Phoenix, but you showed no desire to be moved. Do you hold any kind of grudge against the Suns for the trade?
Thomas: Nah. It’s a business. You can’t hold anything against anybody. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity you get, and hopefully I can find a home here in Boston.
B/R: What are your first impressions of the young backcourt here? What have you learned about these players that you didn’t know when facing them as an opponent?
Thomas: I’ve known Avery [Bradley] almost my whole life, so [playing with him] is nothing new. It’s just a group of guys that fight every night. We don’t back down from anyone. It’s a team that gives it its all. I love being a part of it. I always say this team reminds me of a college team, because we play so hard. We don’t just play with each other; we play for each other. Guys don’t care about who gets the limelight. We just want to win.
B/R: Looking ahead to the offseason, do you feel like the Celtics organization could emerge as an attractive place to play for free agents?
Thomas: It can be. Young coach. Young team. Up-and-coming. You’ve seen the history the Celtics have, one of the top teams in the NBA.
B/R: Does the tradition stand out when you come to a place like Boston?
Thomas: No doubt. That’s probably the first thing you ever notice. The new Boston Garden. Championship. The tradition. All the great players that have been through this organization. It all stands out.
B/R: In the past, there’s been a belief locally that the Celtics haven’t been able to sign any notable free agents for a variety of factors, including weather, location, taxes, etc. Is there anything to that line of thinking in 2015, or is that just a myth?
Thomas: I don’t know. It is cold here. That’s probably a negative, but everything else [is good]. I mean, Boston is a great city. The tradition of the team and history of the team is great, so I think winning takes care of the cold weather and all of the other negatives you can say about the city.
B/R: What mattered to you as a free agent last summer? If the money being offered by a team is equal, does winning take the most importance?
Thomas: [Winning] is the biggest thing. Money is an important factor in wherever you want to go, but also the opportunity given, the situation and the city [matter]. I mean, some people like myself have family and kids. You worry about all that. Sometimes, it’s not all about basketball.
Brian Robb covers the Boston Celtics for Bleacher Report and Celtics Hub.