NEW YORK -- The Boston Celtics didn't just choose Isaiah Thomas to represent the team at the 2016 NBA draft lottery because they believe he's lucky. In the 15 months since he arrived in Boston, the 5-foot-9 point guard has elevated to both All-Star status and the on-court face of a young Celtics team clawing its way back toward the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics sent Thomas to New York City on Tuesday night and told him not to return unless he brought back the No. 1 pick (after a double-dose of draft workouts on Wednesday, Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge playfully confirmed that Boston brass still let Thomas back into the facility after Boston emerged with the No. 3 selection). While the pingpong balls didn't immediately help the Celtics' quest to make a leap forward, Thomas logged some valuable screen time on Tuesday night.
His presence among the final three teams reminded any players watching from afar that this Boston team that won 48 games is set to add more talent, thanks in large part to its treasure trove of draft assets. The Celtics have the potential to add talent via free agency (room for as many as two max-contract players), trade, or the draft.
Thomas is the Celtics' ambassador. He gushes about his situation in Boston -- as this entry he penned for the Players Tribune confirms -- and has admitted he's in full-on recruitment mode this summer with hopes of doing his part to take Boston to another level.
He stressed that during a stop on his pre-lottery media tour. Sitting down with Sirius XM NBA radio, Thomas said, "I'm going to be really active [in recruiting]. [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] wants me to be active. Whatever he needs me to do, I’m there. All he says is, ‘When I call, answer.’ I’m going to be ready."
The NBA tweeted out a photo Tuesday of Thomas talking with Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler in the lottery green room. It's hard not to read into the body language. Thomas is calmly reclined in his leather chair, seemingly holding court. Butler is leaning forward at attention. Maybe they were talking about summer vacation plans. Or the latest episode of "Game of Thrones." But it's hard to imagine that basketball doesn't come up at least briefly in that conversation.
Butler is exactly the sort of elite player that Thomas and the Celtics want to add. Now, that's not to say the Bulls will make Butler available, but Boston -- thanks in part to assets like the No. 3 pick -- can whip together an intriguing package for any impact player who becomes available across the league.
Thomas was asked after the lottery if he had engaged in any recruiting on Tuesday. He replied, "You know how I do. I'm not going to say too much more, but you know," then laughed loudly.
Thomas knows how important it is for Boston to add more talent. He spoke about an urgency to add the necessary pieces around him to propel the Celtics from a team that simply competes for a top spot in the East, to one that can actually advance out of the first round and make a sustained charge in the postseason.
"We’re a step away. We’re a couple pieces away, I think, from being contenders in the Eastern Conference," Thomas said in that same Sirius XM NBA interview. "We won 48 games this year with a team that people didn’t think could do that. That says a lot about the direction we’re going in, and I know Danny and those guys in the front office are going to do whatever they can to make this team the best possible team it can be.
"I do think we need that next star and that guy that can we depend on. Not to sound cocky, but not just myself. We need another option. Like I said, I go to the war with the fellas I have in that [Celtics] locker room right now and I love all those guys, but we do need a little more."
Thomas will join ESPN's NBA Countdown crew for Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. He should be fantastic television. Maybe only Brad Stevens watches more basketball than Thomas, an admitted hoops junkie who is well prepared to offer his thoughts on the happenings around the league. He laughed when it was suggested that he simply has to remember to speak glowingly of all potential free agents and potential future teammates.
Thomas' sales pitch for those players is easy: Look at what coming to Boston did for him.
"It’s changed my career," Thomas said. "I went from a team that kinda had too many ball-dominant guards to a team that needed me to do exactly what I like to do. That’s make plays, score the basketball and be myself. The city of Boston has embraced me, the organization has embraced me for who I am, and it’s unbelievable story for me and I’m just taking advantage of the opportunity that I have."
Thomas knows that, with the right running mates, he can make his story that much more remarkable. That's why he's happy to be on the recruiting trail this summer. He can't control the pingpong balls, but he can certainly influence whether others decide to join him in Boston.