NBA Rumor: Isaiah Thomas Free Agency

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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.”

And while Thomas sees himself as a starter, he told The Times he wouldn’t rule out returning to the Lakers in a role similar to what he has now, coming off the bench for significant minutes. “I like it here, I like the situation I’m in, the system, coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Organization’s been great to me. If things work out I would love to be here. You just never know. With free agency you’ve got to keep your options open. I have no complaints since I’ve stepped foot and put a Laker uniform on.”

“I want to be great,” Thomas said. “I want to win MVP, I want to continue to be an All-Star. Their goals probably aren’t that yet. Coming straight into the league especially at 19, 20 years old. They’re in it for the experience just to figure things out on their own. And then on top of getting to the playoffs and winning championships, I want all that and it might not be their mindset yet. But at the same time being on this team I’m trying to put that in their heads that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Why not think big?”

One of these days – doubters be darned – Isaiah Thomas plans on being a headliner again too. “I’m not no sixth man,” he declared in an interview with USA TODAY Sports this week. “And I won’t be a sixth man (in the future). I just want everybody to know that, like clear as can be. I’m a two-time All-Star and a starter who has done things that a lot of people in this league haven’t done (when) given that opportunity. But I got traded into a situation I can’t control. There’s nothing bad against (Lakers coach) Luke Walton. There’s nothing bad against the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity they’ve given me, and then (we’ll) end the season off strong. And that’s all I can do. I’m not coming in here saying, ‘Oh, I want this, or this is going to happen.’ No, that’s not me. I’m just going to come in here and be a professional, and when my name is called I’m going to be more than ready for any opportunity I’m given.”

And Isaiah Thomas, who has learned time and again that he can only control so much, will keep searching for the hoops happiness that has been so tough to come by of late. “At the end of the day, when free agency comes, I’m going to go where I’m wanted, and wanted the most, and wanted to be Isaiah Thomas,” he said. “And I’ve got to make the best decision for me and my family, and that’s all that I’m going to be worried about when that time comes. But for right now, I’m a Laker and I’m here at least until the end of the season and I’m going to do whatever I can to make this team better.”
3 years ago via ESPN

Isaiah Thomas isn’t sure what free agency holds for him this summer but said Thursday that his “résumé speaks for itself” and that if given the opportunity he can do what he did in Boston again. “All you need is one team to love you,” Thomas said after the Los Angeles Lakers’ morning shootaround in Miami. “It’s like the draft all over again. You just need one team. So that is all I am doing and working toward. Until then, I am focused on doing whatever I can to make this the best team possible. “My resume speaks for itself. What I can do on the basketball floor speaks for itself. I can’t do nothing but control what I can control, and that is taking advantage of any opportunity that I am given and playing my heart out. But come July, I got to weigh my options to do what is best for myself and my family.”

After years of wild spending, only a few teams have much cap room—and none as much as the Lakers. With the No. 1 pick they got from the Cavs (Cleveland’s own pick, not Brooklyn’s), the Lakers might even get someone to take Luol Deng’s $18 million a year, creating two max slots with $12 million left over. With necessary discounts from James’ $35 million and George’s $30 million, Thomas, on an expiring deal, could have a place here, not as a ball-dominating point guard but an explosive sixth man who could be a huge plus in today’s fast-paced, firepower-oriented, floor-spacing game.

The best part for the Lakers is that Thomas could work in any case, helping them recruit more stars, whether they land two, or one, or none. For the first time in a long time, their strategy isn’t hit-or-miss but flexibile. Thomas’ struggles returning from surgery dimmed the memory of his years leading the Celtics back into prominence, making him an icon among icons in their market. Coming off the bench would make Isaiah’s size easier to work around. It’s not something he would have embraced in Boston of Cleveland but he might here, knowing he has to find somewhere he fits in.
3 years ago via ESPN

One, the Cavs will be under some pressure to retain him because he’s a prime asset from the Kyrie Irving trade. Though the Cavs made it clear behind the scenes that they saw the Nets’ pick as the primary carrot, the Nets’ stronger-than-expected play this season is threatening to push that pick deeper into the lottery. Currently, it is projected to be the ninth pick. A team, even a rebuilding team as the Cavs might be if James walks, cannot allow prime assets to leave for nothing. Second, Gilbert loves underdogs like Thomas. He sees himself as an underdog, a self-made billionaire who went to Michigan State, not the Ivy League. In 2016, Gilbert was the driving force behind paying $2.4 million to buy a draft pick to take Kay Felder, an undersized point guard from Oakland University who attracted Gilbert because of his ability to overcome challenges. Felder didn’t make it with the Cavs, but Thomas is the embodiment of what the Cavs were dreaming of with Felder.
3 years ago via ESPN

Adrian Wojnarowski: “It puts Isaiah Thomas in a really difficult place. He’s gonna be a free agent at the end of this season and he’s looking for the biggest financial score of his career. And both teams dragging him through this is really unfair to his future because he may very well get through and be fully recovered when he gets into free agency next year. The focus is really on how soon can he play this season. But it’s certainly damaging his value around the league, and probably unfairly so.”

But questions remain about Thomas, who was hobbled by a serious hip injury during the most recent playoffs and is still set to undergo tests before training camp to establish his status. What’s more, the fact that he infamously called for the Celtics to “Back up the Brink’s truck” next summer when he’s eligible for a huge payday means Cleveland will have to eventually find clarity on this front. For James’ part, he’s on record as a huge fan of Thomas. “(The Celtics) got a clear-cut star and that’s Isaiah,” James said in late December. “The notion that they don’t have a star I think is ‘fugazi’ as Donnie Brasco would say. Earlier I was watching the movie. So, they’re a good team for a reason and it starts with the head of the snake and that’s Isaiah.”
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