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Isaiah Thomas Interview: On Recruiting Free Agents, Al Horford and Celtics Youth

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2016

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 24:  Isaiah Thomas #4 of the Boston Celtics celebrates at the end of the fourth quarter of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Atlanta Hawks during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 24, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Isaiah Thomas is more than just the Boston Celtics' starting point guard and an Eastern Conference All-Star. He's also a free-agent recruiter extraordinaire—and an enthusiastic one, at that.

Thomas led Boston's ultimately unsuccessful albeit still impressive courtship of Kevin Durant, and he technically started selling Al Horford on the Celtics way over the All-Star break. That's just who he is—fiercely loyal to his current team and, most importantly, charismatic enough to pique the attention of his peers.

Bleacher Report caught up with Thomas by phone to chat about his busy summer, which includes headlining Slim Jim's Settle the Beef initiative, a campaign that dedicates itself to reconciling all types of divisive issues, basketball-related or not. And don't worry: We had time to ask about how Jae Crowder is doing now that Durant knows so many of Boston's defensive secrets.

            

Bleacher Report: Multiple reports said you were a big part of the Celtics’ free-agent recruiting contingent. What’s it like to be an available NBA talent being sold on Boston by Isaiah Thomas? Are you doing anything specific before and after the meetings? During the meetings?

Isaiah Thomas: Not really. Just try to build a relationship with whomever you’re recruiting and be as genuine as possible. In college, when guys would come to visit, coaches would want me to be the host. I was the guy, I guess, who people always seemed to like and wanted to be around. That’s just my personality. I don’t have to try being nothing I’m not. I’m just being myself and telling players what’s real.

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B/R: This summer, the Celtics were linked to a bunch of big names—players who were hearing tons of noise from different people. As one player talking to another, is it difficult to find a balance between being an aggressive recruiter and respecting what is probably a difficult/busy time for some guys?

Thomas: It is tough. You’ve been in that situation, whether it be high school, college or the NBA, and sometimes you just want to be left alone. I don’t try to push it too much. I say my stuff here and there. At the end of the day, it’s about trying to build that relationship and talk to that person without always bringing up what your main goal is: to get that person on your team or to recruit that guy. I think if you’re as genuine as possible and relaxed and have a different vibe about you, it’s easy. I just try to be who I am, and hopefully I can persuade that guy to decide to play for the team I’m on. 

Thomas has been playing the role of a prime-time recruiter since before entering the NBA.
Thomas has been playing the role of a prime-time recruiter since before entering the NBA.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

         

B/R: Does it resonate with you that your recruiting efforts toward one player could result in the departure of another? Like, if the Celtics don’t get Al Horford, maybe Jared Sullinger is still in Boston. If they don’t pursue Kevin Durant, maybe Evan Turner is still in town. Is it difficult to reconcile that aspect of free agency?

Thomas: It’s tough. But I try to keep my personal input on what I’ve experienced, what I’m going through in Boston, how I feel and how the city of Boston feels. So I’m just trying to show [recruits] what I’ve been through. A guy like Kevin Durant, who is a superstar, I’m just trying to show him my experience and what I’ve been through, and hopefully it rubs off on him.

                 

B/R: What are you most looking forward to about playing with Horford next season?

Thomas: Man, the things he was doing to us in the playoffs, I’m looking forward to him doing that for us. I know he’s a versatile guy and very talented on both ends of the floor. I think he’s going to help in multiple ways.

          

B/R: Are you at all concerned about Turner’s departure, or do you see Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown being able to replace a lot of what he did?

Thomas: We’re going to miss Evan. He’s a guy who can not only make a play for himself, but a play for his teammates. When we played together, I played off the ball and let him make plays. We’re definitely going to miss that, but [his exit] is an opportunity someone else can take advantage of. I know Marcus Smart is going to be ready and is working hard.

Another guy, my guy, Terry Rozier, is going to surprise people. I think he’s ready to make an impact. And then there’s Jaylen Brown. He’s going to be as ready as he has to be, and he’s going to help us wherever he can fit in. I’m excited at the opportunity to be competing with these guys. I’m excited to see who’s gotten better and what guys have worked on. 

Thomas knows the Celtics will miss Turner, but he remains optimistic about their immediate future without him.
Thomas knows the Celtics will miss Turner, but he remains optimistic about their immediate future without him.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

           

B/R: You were pretty outspoken about the team needing to improve over the offseason. Do you think the Celtics have done enough to improve upon last year’s 48-win finish?

Thomas: I think we’ve done enough to build on it. I don’t know if we’ve done enough to be a championship-contending team, but we’re going in that direction. Danny [Ainge] and the front-office guys are doing their jobs and will do whatever they can to build a championship contender. And hopefully I’m here, on that team, and able to contend for [a title].

                     

B/R: Was Jae Crowder actually disappointed or kidding about you guys divulging too many basketball trade secrets during the meeting with Kevin Durant?

Thomas: I honestly don’t know who he was talking to, but hopefully he was joking. Knowing Jae, he’s a competitor. Little things like that could have made him upset. If it did, I know he’s working and getting better this offseason to show the world how he’s improved.

Crowder's displeasure with the amount of information Boston gave Durant is symbolic of his competitiveness.
Crowder's displeasure with the amount of information Boston gave Durant is symbolic of his competitiveness.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

          

B/R: What caught your attention about Slim Jim’s Settle the Beef campaign?

Isaiah Thomas: When they brought it to me and we connected, it was something that I was very interested in. You have beefs in all aspects of life, with your friends or your family members, on the phone, through texts, in person, and they can be about anything. This also lets me take time out of my day to do a Twitter takeover and interact with the fans who want to beef and talk about basketball or any other topic. This is something that’s going to be very fun. And the slogan is just unique. You always have to settle some type of beef, good or bad, whether you’re arguing or not.

        

B/R: Do you have any existing on-court beefs right now, be it with teammates or opposing players?

Thomas: I don’t have any outstanding beefs right now. There is probably only beef when we’re at practice or in games, when guys are competing and talking mess. So as of right now, I don’t have beef with anyone.

        

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter,@danfavale.

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