Isaiah Thomas’ NBA career is predicated on the conundrum of the sequential episode. For the most part, his next episode is unpredictable, especially for a player that burdened optimistic, if not extravagant, expectations on himself.
Two years ago, IT gloated, “My time is coming. They got to bring out the brinks trucks.” In an effort to backtrack on that statement, he concocted a series of Instagram stories, announcing impending contrition.
A major bounce-back from a tragic season must ensue for IT. His revenge story must manifest into a reality.
At any rate, Isaiah Thomas yearns to lace up his shoes and get back to the basics. He takes solace in being himself, shooting off-balance and impossible three-point jump shots. Or hanging in the air and double-clutching over players twice his size. Or diving on the floor and hyping up the home crowd. Isaiah Thomas’ resume is built upon proving people wrong and accepting veracity.
Impugned and interrogated, the miniature point guard blossomed in seemingly impossible situations at every pitstop of his NBA career. The Washington star awaited to hear his name called in the 2011 draft until finally, he earned the moniker, Mr. Irrelevant, drafted by Sacramento with the last pick in the second round. Once he reached the Kings, he sat behind one-trick pony Jimmer Fredette before earning his stripes as a microwave scorer by the tail-end of the season. Globe-trotting from Sacramento to Phoenix, he found his niche as a score-first starting point guard. Ryan Mcdonagh’s three-guard project proved cataclysmal, as the Suns bottomed out from 48 to 39 wins. After ruffling feathers with Suns management over a starting job, Thomas found himself a relatively permanent home: Boston.
In Boston, Thomas landed third in MVP voting, scoring nearly 30 points on a nightly basis. He warranted fear into his opponents, who played a continuous game of cat and mouse with Thomas around the perimeter. The cat finally caught the mouse by season’s end, when Isaiah Thomas did a pratfall when he damaged his hip once–and then again. The second hip debilitation occurred during the stretch run of a Celtics playoff run, one Thomas ultimately regretted playing in. The problem loitered and inhibited a long-awaited return in Shamrock Green. Thomas never donned the green #4 jersey again, and perhaps elicited the ‘one year wonder’ aphorism. He was traded to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving. Yet Cleveland seemed to be a sojourn in a tiring mash-up of destinations.
Once Isaiah Thomas jetted to Cleveland, his introductory press conference was imminent. Thomas cramped into a seat between Jae Crowder and Koby Altman. Questions fell far and wide between regarding Thomas’ devitalized hip: Can you give us a timetable? What are you able to do right now? When did you know that you suffered a torn labrum? Thomas giddily pointed his thumb, directing the whirlwind of never-ending questions to his boss. Koby Altman, Cleveland’s GM, could not stand it, “I don’t want this to be the Isaiah Thomas hip press conference,” Altman emphasized. Albeit, such inquiry was only predicted. His second injury undermined the efficacy Thomas once displayed. His scoring took a nosedive, to 23 points per game, and so did his efficiency.
The nature of the beauty of Isaiah’s once-electrifying persona has fallen off the face of the Earth. Those double clutch layups and diving plays became pull-up jump shots and cautious pauses. He’s shot 37.3% from the field and 29.3% from three since leaving Boston. Injuries continue to riddle the guard as well, he appeared in just 39% of games with Cleveland and Los Angeles.
At the pinnacle of his success, Thomas encapsulated his breathtaking game, where he scored 29 points in the final quarter, “You get in a zone and you feel like you’re in a gym by yourself,” he exulted to a reporter in front of thousands of Celtic fans. Following a one-year anniversary celebration in Miami with his wife, Isaiah sat back and enjoyed life.
Then, Thomas’ phone buzzed, the screen lit up and read Danny Ainge. IT put his phone beside him and uttered, “that’s crazy,” perhaps reminiscing on a series of unforgettable moments in Boston. Back-to-back 40 point games. The torn-hip win against Washington to win the series. Scoring 53 on his sister’s birthday. All those memories wrapped up and cemented into the past. He looked up and blankly stared, perhaps frustrated at another puzzling trade. Even at his best, Thomas felt like he was not wanted, never accepted. “What are you talkin bout, my kids ‘bout to start school,” Thomas vented to a nearby camera. The NBA is a business and Thomas reiterated that he understood what happened. After all, Denver will be Thomas’ 6th team in 8 years.
His meteoric fall from grace left a bad taste and a defining phrase: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Still, he joins an energetic and youthful Nuggets team. Isaiah Thomas, 29, will be an outlier on a team filled with inexperience. Denver boasted the 7th youngest team, at a shade under 25 years old. Not only that, their core is composed of spry talents; Nikola Jokic is 23, Jamal Murray is 21, and Gary Harris is 23.
The Nuggets are entangled in NBA obscurity. Signing Isaiah Thomas confirms this. His one year $2 million is fiscally inconsequential to a potentially contending team. Signing Will Barton, on the other hand, put a significant tax penalty on the team.
Escaping the boondocks of NBA mediocrity is feasible as soon as next year. $35 million is off the books next season. There is not a fleeting panic within the organization to make any eccentric and futile moves.
All along, Mike Malone reminded where this team started, and the improvement it made in just a season. He’s right, a 16 game improvement should not go unnoticed. The Denver coach shed light, “I understand the emotion, I understand the frustration. But we all share in that. And all I can tell you is this: We’re heading in the right direction. We’re getting better. We improved in a lot of areas this year,” he recounted with conviction. Not to mention, the team had 11 more sellouts than last season. Unfortunately, advancement means greater expectations. Next season may define Malone’s career as Nuggets coach, even if additional amelioration is exhibited.
It’s worth noting that the Nuggets were just 4 games behind the 4 seed in a tight Western Conference race. The Western Conference is the best it’s ever been and the Nuggets are in a dead-heat for a top-5 seed. Adding a former MVP candidate that is working to recoup his vitality, is decidedly worth the flier.
Other transactions stand as more ambiguous. They performed a trade 3 years too late by getting rid of Kenneth Faried — with a 2019 protected first-rounder attached. Once thought to garner a first-round pick himself, Faried’s monetary value diluted his playing ability.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris already congest Denver’s backcourt. In Sacramento, Mike Malone preferred the smaller guard to act as a sixth-man in his fast-paced offense. It looks like Malone will fulfill that prophecy with Thomas receiving 25-30 minutes per game. To not consign to oblivion, Will Barton inked a lavish, 4 year-$54 million contract. Barton was the de facto backup point guard, controlling the ball in pick and roll and other half-court situations. As a result of Barton’s staggering presence, Thomas may be knocked down to 7th man.
In taking a lesser role, the former star apprehends that his voice will have to echo positivity and optimism. His game and personality deviate from Denver’s former backup floor generals, Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson. Harris and Nelson focused on getting the ball to younger superstars and taking on a mentor role on and off the court. Thomas is mostly volatile as a scorer, searching for his shot first –and second. He also tries to do what’s better for him off the court, going as far as self-promoting himself on social media.
Thomas knows the intricacies of the NBA. The league is defiantly a business. A dog eats dog world. He also knows that he controls his own destiny and whether the Brinks truck will ever be brought out. He has one year to prove himself.
Isaiah’s eyes grew heavy, his voice crackling, evidently weary of describing the trade to Cleveland. “There’s no loyalty. They’re going to what’s best for them. And you gotta do what’s best for you,” he concluded. Reasonably, there may not be a better way to describe Denver. After all, if the NBA has taught Thomas anything, it could be the last time he laces up his shoes to play in an NBA game.