Isaiah Thomas finished in fifth place for MVP voting back in the 2016-17 season. He is now fighting for a roster spot on the Los Angeles Lakers as COVID continues to decimate NBA rosters at an alarming rate. How did he get here?
The former last overall pick in the 2011 draft was selected by the Sacramento Kings. He was touted as a crafty, scoring guard out of the University of Washington State. There were obvious concerns about his height, as he was listed at 5’9 and there were also concerns about his defense as well.
The Sacramento Kings would draft three players in the 2011 draft, Jimmer Fredette (10th overall pick), Tyler Honeycutt (35th overall pick, Rest In Peace), and Isaiah Thomas as the 60th overall pick. Fredette would struggle to ever find his footing in the NBA and IT would take advantage of this as he would start 37 games in his rookie season.
IT used his time in Sacramento to truly cement himself in the NBA. He was able to shed the last overall pick label and become an up-and-coming player. He was able to outplay the 10th overall pick, a player that was widely known as one of the best college scorers of all time in Jimmer Fredette. Thomas had crushed the expectations that were set for him as he was selected to the 2011-12 All-Rookie team. It was just the start for Isaiah Thomas.
Unfortunately, the Kings didn’t believe he was worth a hefty contract extension, so they would trade him instead. The Kings would dealt him to the Phoenix Suns for traded player exception, and Alex Oriakhi. The Kings would never use the TPE, and Oriakhi has yet to play in the NBA, and likely will never play in the NBA. The Kings likely still regret making this move as DeMarcus Cousins would go on and bloom into one of the NBA’s most feared big-men.
IT on the Suns was an awkward fit, to say the least. Their decision to carry three fringe all-star point guards is still a head-scratcher to this day. Then when you take into account that neither of them was taller than 6’3, it becomes even weirder. Eric Bledsoe was the athletic slashing point guard that could defend as well. Goran Dragic was a well-balanced scoring guard and Isaiah Thomas was a crafty scoring guard that could score from anywhere on the floor. Putting three ball-dominant guards on the floor at once was a recipe for disaster. This experiment was a short, and poor one as Isaiah Thomas was traded to the Boston Celtics for Marcus Thornton and the 28th overall pick, while Dragic was sent to the Miami Heat, along with his brother Zoran Dragic.
Boston would help take IT’s career to new heights. He would be in Boston for three seasons, but his mark was forever cemented in Boston Celtics history. He would play just 21 games for the Celtics in his first season since he was traded just before the trade deadline. In his second season, he would help lead the Celtics to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. IT would have his best season up to that point, scoring 22 points per game on 43% from the field, and 6 assists a game. It would also be his first time being invited to the NBA All-Star game as well.
In his third season, IT would have his best season as a pro. He would score 29 points per game on 46% from the field, 38% from three, and dished out 6 assists a game. Isaiah Thomas would also finish the season as an All-Star once again, and he would also finish fifth in MVP voting. He would also help lead the Celtics to the first seed in the Eastern Conference. They would lose to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games.
This is where Isaiah’s career takes a turn for the worst. IT would suffer a hip injury against the Minnesota Timberwolves in March of 2017, but the Celtics claimed it was a bone bruise to IT, so he continued to play on it. By the playoffs, the damage to his hip had been done. The Celtics failed to mention the long-term damage that would occur if IT continued to play on it. Since they labeled it a bone bruise, IT assumed it was okay to play on. While on All the Smoke with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, IT said, “The only thing that I think they handled wrong was not explaining to me what the extent of my injury could be if I do play,” Thomas said. The Celtics essentially derailed his entire career. The impact of playing through this hip injury has made it difficult for him to find a home in the NBA again. “I’m 5’9”. If I don’t play, they gonna forget about me,” said IT.
Boston would deal IT to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers would receive Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Brooklyn Nets 2018 first-round pick. Kyrie Irving had grown tired of Cleveland and wanted a new start, so he forced his way out to Boston. IT was headed to join forces with the King, LeBron James. This trade would shape both the Celtics’ and the Cavs’ futures. The Celtics became known as an organization that had no regard for players’ well-being. From not telling IT about the long-term damage to his hip to dealing him without even a word of warning that a deal could be made. This hurt the Celtics’ chances of landing a big fish like Anthony Davis because his camp was worried he too, could be dealt. What made the IT trade sting more, he was still dealing with the loss of his sister, Chyna. IT would play the day after she passed, scoring 33 points.
On the Cavs’ side, Kyrie Irving was either leaving Cleveland, or he was going to sit out the entire season. He had no intentions of ever suiting up for the Cavs ever again. The Cavs went from a team that completed the best comeback in Finals history, to a team that would be blown up at the trade deadline. IT would be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers along with Channing Frye and their own 2018 first-round pick, for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
After the 2016-17 season, IT would never play more than 40 games. He would play on six different teams in five seasons, and would never truly be able to regain his dominant form. The hip injury lingered for years, but recently he has said that this is the best he has felt in a long time. He proved this over the summer as he lit up pro-am games all over the United States. From dropping 65 points in an Atlanta Pro-Am to scoring 81 points in the Crawsover Pro-Am, IT was proving he was feeling good. It still wasn’t good enough for NBA teams, so he would go on to join the G-League. In his season debut for the Denver Nuggets G-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold, he would drop 42 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds. The Lakers would sign IT to a 10-day contract the very next day. In four games, IT would average 9 points a game on 30% from the field.
On Sunday, the Lakers would opt to not bring IT back for a second 10-day contract and he would become a free agent once again. On a positive note, there are teams that would like to bring him in for a 10-day, so I don’t think this is the last time we see IT in the NBA. This feels like an obstacle that he will conquer.
Isaiah Thomas’ story is not over. But if there is one lesson you take away from his journey, never give up. No matter how large or small your goal is, it can be accomplished if you put your head down and do the work. Isaiah should be an inspiration to anyone that has dreams because he was never supposed to be put in a position to win the MVP. But he believed himself, and with hard work and dedication, he made that dream come true.
Isaiah Thomas once said, “It was important to me to believe because if I don’t believe, how can I expect them to believe?”
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