NBA Rumor: Isaiah Thomas Free Agency

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The Cavs might also be looking for another center. Isaiah Hartenstein, who arrived in the JaVale McGee deal with Denver, has a player option. Sources expect him to exercise that and become a free agent. Hartenstein, who made the minimum this past season, likes it in Cleveland. But he boosted his value over the final few months and opting in would make him underpaid at $1.7 million. Hartenstein’s preference, according to sources, is to renegotiate a more lucrative long-term deal, staying with the Cavs as Allen’s backup.

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Sources said Thomas has been in New Orleans undergoing COVID-19 testing, which will allow him to join the team immediately. The deal is expected to be finalized Saturday, clearing the way for Thomas to join the Pelicans before Sunday’s game at Houston. The Pelicans needed to sign a player by Saturday to reach the NBA’s 14-man roster requirement. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the Pelicans are $346,000 below the luxury tax, so 10-day contracts work better for the team in the short term.

He decided to play for the Americans partly as a showcase in hopes of earning his way back into the NBA, where he most recently played for Washington last February. Thomas — like many NBA players — had some trouble adjusting to the ball and the way the international game is officiated. But he was pleased with his movement and conditioning and said he’ll clean up his mistakes Saturday. “The world knows I’ve got what it takes. So ,it’s just about showing that I’m healthy,” Thomas said. “My skill didn’t go anywhere, it was just about getting a hundred percent healthy, which I am right now.”

Joe Johnson: Isaiah Thomas looks great

Johnson — the 39-year-old who scored 20,405 points in his 17 NBA seasons — offered even more praise after seeing Thomas in practices this week. “He looks great,” Johnson said. “One thing I’ll say: In pick and rolls, I think he’s probably going to be unstoppable. Bigs, I don’t know what they’ll do. Do you get out and hedge? He’ll go around you and split you. Do you try to catch him? He’ll pull up for the jumper. He has a great arsenal. It’s been fun to watch him play, man. I will tell you that.”

He was the No. 60, and last, pick in the 2011 draft. The other 73 final picks — granted, the draft used to include more than 200 players — have combined to score 6,644 points, while Thomas’ NBA total is 9,508. He heard plenty of times that at 5-foot-9 he was too short for the NBA; he averaged 28.9 points for Boston in 2016-17, the most ever in league history for someone his height. “I’ve already proven who I am,” Thomas said. “I still love the game. I just need an opportunity.”

Isaiah Thomas: NBA teams want to watch me play

While the U.S. has already qualified for the FIBA AmeriCup Tournament, scheduled to take place in September 2022, two games remain in the qualifying round in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this week. The two-game set provides an ideal chance for Thomas to show his hip is once again healthy, and that he still has much to offer the game. “It was a no-brainer,” Thomas said. “It is a great opportunity to come out here and participate. A lot of NBA teams have told me that they want to watch me play. Here at this tournament, I’m able to play against real competition in addition to being able to represent my country, which is an honor and a privilege.”

His last appearance with the Celtics was in Game 2 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals. He was traded to Cleveland after the season, beginning a nomadic migration through five NBA teams over the next three years. “It was very frustrating,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know how to deal with (the injury), everything was on the fly. I was really trying to do everything I could do to compete at a high level, but I wasn’t myself, and anyone who watched the games could see that.”

On the court, the 31-year-old Thomas said, he was carving and cutting and swirling just as he once did. He said it felt wonderful. He said it felt like he had finally found his swagger again. “Those guys were like, ‘Damn, welcome back. You really look like yourself,’ ” Thomas recalled. “That only gave me more confidence to be able to play the game again. I mean, I was blowing by people. I haven’t blown by anybody since I had a Celtics uniform on. When I was able to blow by MVP-caliber players, that told me my burst and power and speed are there. I really feel like I’m back.”

Five months removed from a hip resurfacing procedure, two-time NBA All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas is charting a course for the 2020-21 season armed with visual and data evidence that he’s now a much stronger candidate to contribute to an NBA roster as a bench scorer. “It’s like night and day for me,” Thomas, 31, told ESPN. “There’s no more pain. I’ve got my full range of motion. For three years, I was trying to play the best players in the world on one leg. I needed help from my kids to put my socks on in the morning. “Now, I can lift weights. I can squat low. I can work out twice a day. I’m able to cut and move and stop, able to cut and go. I feel like I’m 31 years old again. And now, I have scientific evidence to show that.”

Whatever teams want to see out of Thomas — perhaps a performance at a pro day or a series of workouts at a team facility, once such things are allowed again — he is anxious to show them. “In some ways, the time off because of COVID was a blessing in disguise for my career,” Thomas said. “It allowed me to take the time to get this procedure done, and get back physically to a level I need to be to compete in the league. I made the right decision to do this, and I’m anxious to show people I can contribute to a team again.”

Isaiah Thomas: I’m fine with being a backup, At the end of the day I want to be apart of something and when my name is called I’d be more than ready!!! That goes for any team

Daniel Greenberg: Isaiah Thomas in the gym with Zach LaVine. A couple of weeks ago Thomas said on IG Live that he always wanted to play for the Chicago Bulls and that “playing in Chi with Zach would be cold.” (Video via isaiahthomas/IG)

As difficult as the season was from a production standpoint, Thomas views it as a positive. “I didn’t take any days off and that was a positive from where I was coming from,” Thomas told Chris Miller on the Wizards Talk Podcast. “It had been two years since I could get better each and every day and not take any days off, and that big for me. Right now, I mean physically, I’m great,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay physically sharp as best as I can throughout this situation and what’s next for me is waiting for the next opportunity in the NBA.”

Some Celtics fans will not want to hear this, but Isaiah Thomas, who was waived by the Clippers, is not an option. Evan Turner, who is expected to have his contract bought out by the Timberwolves, struggled in limited minutes for Atlanta this year. But he could be a good break-glass-in-case-of-emergency possibility for the Celtics if there are multiple injuries during the playoffs, because he has shown he can play well in Stevens’s system.

Some Celtics fans will not want to hear this, but Isaiah Thomas, who was waived by the Clippers, is not an option. Evan Turner, who is expected to have his contract bought out by the Timberwolves, struggled in limited minutes for Atlanta this year. But he could be a good break-glass-in-case-of-emergency possibility for the Celtics if there are multiple injuries during the playoffs, because he has shown he can play well in Stevens’s system.

After everything that went down, would you be open to playing for the Celtics again? Isaiah Thomas: For sure, if the opportunity presented itself. I hold no grudges, and they know that. I have genuine love for the city of Boston. If that were to happen, I’d love to be part of what they have going on. You never know. I’m always open for any opportunity to be in the NBA and play the game that I love at the highest level. If that opportunity presents itself, for sure. Time has passed.

It was only three years ago Thomas was talking about bringing out Brinks trucks before finishing fifth in MVP voting. A series of injuries later, he still wants his elusive paycheck, but he also craves a more sustainable lifestyle for his two sons, his 1-year-old daughter, Journey, and his wife, Kayla. “I want to be somewhere I can be three or four years,” he said. “I was in Sacramento for three years. I was in Boston for three years. Even though that’s not a long time, I was comfortable there. My family was able to build relationships with people around the organization, people around the city. It just made things easier. So, what I am looking for — obviously, I want to get paid the most I possibly can, because I feel like I deserve that, but I also want to be able to be somewhere for a while.”
2 years ago via ESPN

Isaiah Thomas is hopeful his season with the Denver Nuggets and a full 2019 summer of work become a pathway back into an NBA rotation, a full-time resumption of a career sidetracked with hip surgery. “Nobody knew what to expect with me coming off hip surgery last year, and two summers of rehab,” Thomas told ESPN. “Now, I can go back to being a gym rat this summer, work on my game again, and build my body back up — my muscle mass, my leg strength — all like I had going into the 2017 season.”

Thomas is now employed by the Denver Nuggets, the team that clinched its first playoff spot in six years with a 114-105 victory over the Celtics. But Thomas still yearns for Boston. “Why not? If the opportunity presents itself … that would mean everything to me,” Thomas said. “The Nuggets organization has taken me in with open arms and given me an opportunity to work my way back in my own time. I’m open to any and everybody, but if that [Boston] opportunity is there, why not?”

Thomas said that Ainge told him at the time the Celtics were primarily focused on re-signing Marcus Smart, which they ultimately did. But Thomas will be a free agent again this summer, and perhaps this opportunity will present itself once more. “You never know,” he said. “You can’t predict the future. My options are always open for anybody. I’m a Denver Nugget now, but I’m a free agent at the end of the season, and you never know what can happen. Who knows?”

Isaiah Thomas tells TMZ Sports … he’s fired up to show the NBA he’s healed up and back to the superstar he was — and wants to prove in 2018 that he’s worthy of a max contract. Remember, the 2-time All-Star just signed a veteran’s minimum, 1-year, $2 million contract with the Denver Nuggets … and when we saw him at LAX, he explained why he took the deal. “The goal is just to show that I’m healthy and I’m the same player I was before,” Thomas said … “I just need one year.”

Thomas has dropped in free-agent stature almost through no fault of his own. The problem here is his hip, which front-office execs around the league fear is either pre-arthritic or already arthritic. Maybe the only way that Thomas has hurt his own free agency has been by not choosing to have hip surgery sooner during last season, when he was an All-Star and an MVP candidate for the Celtics. “It’s a red flag that he did not have surgery on it,” one general manager told Sporting News. “If you have a problem that can be fixed heading into your free-agent year, you get surgery. If there is concern that you can’t fix it with surgery, that means probably there is something more wrong. It is something that, obviously, the doctors will look at closely.”

Off the floor, he would be subject to more swelling and increased pain. Of course, he’s gotten accustomed to hip pain in recent years. But any team that signs him this summer will protect itself against the possibility that Thomas has serious hip damage. “I think everybody likes the guy,” the GM said. “You root for him. But do you want to pay him $12 or 14 million when you know you’re also paying for all the headaches that his health could give you? Someone will get him, but it’s going to be a low-risk deal.”

A year ago, Thomas seemed destined to land a maximum contract in the summer of 2018. Now, he faces a questionable market in which there are already only a few teams with max slots available. Will anyone want to spend that kind of money on a player with an unproven hip? Thomas said he was unconcerned with free agency. “The results will show that the surgery only fixed it,” he said. “The world knew that I never got my labrum fixed when I was going through that and trying to heal on my own. … The decision that I made it felt like it was the best decision for me personally, individually, as a basketball player for the rest of my career.”

“I don’t know what will happen in terms of [Isaiah Thomas’] contract, but he deserves to make money in this game,” said Olynyk, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Heat this summer. “He’s brought a lot to the game, brought a lot to that city in Boston. Anywhere he goes, he gives his heart and soul to the game of basketball. Last year, [during our playoff run] we didn’t know it, but he was sacrificing his own career for everybody in that city. No one knew that at the time.

He was the 60th pick in a draft in which nobody liked him. He was undervalued by Sacramento and discarded by Phoenix before finding a coach (Stevens) and a GM (Danny Ainge) who believed in him in Boston. They didn’t just give him playing time, either — he earned it. “He’s a tough sucker, man,” former Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty told Yahoo Sports. “He played through pain. He’d go down, he’d get right back up. IT is always IT. Win, lose, he’s the same giving, loving person. He worked hard. He was in the gym more than anybody. He put the time in. He did all the right things.”

So what’s next? There are only a handful of teams with real cap space this summer and even fewer where Thomas makes sense. The Sixers will have room — they also have Markelle Fultz. The Mavericks have room. But there’s Dennis Smith, too. Chicago and Atlanta are rebuilding and make no sense for a near-30-year-old point guard coming off a brutal season. “No one is going long there [with a deal], in all likelihood,” former Cavs GM David Griffin told Yahoo Sports. “[The hip] is a very significant factor. His whole game is predicated upon quickness and creating shot separation. If he can’t do that, he is a small non-defender.”

And the system? “I was pleased with [Isaiah Thomas’] willingness to come off the bench in L.A.,” David Griffin said. “[It] will be very important for next season that teams believe he is willing to do whatever it takes to win and isn’t caught up in the semantics of a starting role. His willingness to speak up immediately in Cleveland was a terrible fit for the locker room, but not entirely a negative. If he is in a role as veteran leader, as he was in L.A., it can be important, positive trait.” Added Billy King: “He needs a system that allows him to shoot whenever he wants. This year, you heard some of the knocks on him before he got to Boston. That he wasn’t the greatest teammate. That you couldn’t find the right system to put him in because he needed to shoot all the time. Then he went to Boston, and Boston needed him to shoot all the time. That’s also probably why they were looking to move him, because they were building around Gordon Hayward and looking to play a different way.”
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