Last week, former Celtic Isaiah Thomas signed with the Denver Nuggets. Although IT was expecting a max contract, injuries, a trade, and numerous other factors over the past year culminated in Thomas having to sign for less than expected. Having finished 5th in MVP voting in 2017 averaging 28.9 PPG, one must ask themselves: how did he get to this point, and so fast?
Well, a quick timeline of events – starting back in March of 2017 – will begin to illustrate how Isaiah went from expecting $100+ million, to only receiving $2 million, having to prove his worth… yet again.
In the third quarter of a close game versus Minnesota, Isaiah Thomas drove to the lane for a layup that was blocked. Thomas fell to the floor, and it is believed at this moment he injured his hip. IT finished the game with 27 points but missed the next two games. Returning five days later, Thomas played every game the remainder of the regular season, scoring 20+ points in 10 of the last 12 games.
Just a day before the playoffs began, Isaiah Thomas’ sister (Chyna) was killed in an auto accident. Isaiah (as any of us would), was clearly distraught following her passing, and it showed prior to Game 1 versus the Chicago Bulls. The Celtics told Isaiah it would be okay if he took some time, but as a way of grieving, he chose to do what he loved: play basketball. Isaiah put up 33 points in the first game of the series, but the C’s lost to Chicago by 6 points.
Chyna Thomas is laid to rest in Tacoma, Washington.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals versus Washington, IT broke his tooth in the first few minutes of the game. The Celtics quickly fell behind but were able to overcome a double-digit deficit to beat Washington by 12.
Days later in Game 2, Isaiah had one of the greatest playoff performances in Celtics history. The C’s fell behind early yet again but propelled by IT (who had a knack for scoring in bunches in the 4th quarter during the season), he led the team back, scoring 53 points. The C’s took a 2-0 series lead and would win the series in 7 games; Isaiah averaged 27.4 PPG in the series.
In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals versus Cleveland, Isaiah re-aggravated his old hip injury. Having only missed two games between March 15 and this game, IT obviously endured a lot of pain. This injury, in addition to the passing of his sister, these two months had to be some of the most painful times one could ever experience. Nevertheless, IT played until he could not bare the pain any longer. Following this game, IT was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs.
At the first annual NBA Awards show, Russell Westbrook was named the 2017 NBA MVP. Isaiah Thomas finished 5th in MVP voting, behind Russ, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, and LeBron James.
In late August, the Boston Celtics made a blockbuster move for disgruntled Cleveland Caviler Kyrie Irving. In return for Irving, the Celtics traded Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 first round pick (BKN; became the 8th pick of the draft, and CLE drafted PG Collin Sexton).
In the days following the announcement of the trade, news came out about the significance of Isaiah’s still injured hip. On this day, Isaiah failed his physical with Cleveland, putting a halt to the trade. Raising concerns over their compensation now that a main piece of the deal was injured more than the previously thought (or so they said), Cleveland requested more from Boston.
8 days after the original trade was announced, the Celtics and Cleveland were able to agree to terms on the deal. In addition to the previously discussed pieces of the trade, Boston sent the Cavs the 2020 second round pick of the Miami Heat. Isaiah Thomas was now a Cleveland Caviler.
7.5 months after his final game as a Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas made his debut for the Cleveland Cavilers. In a win (127-110) versus the Portland Trail Blazers, IT put up 17 points (6-12) in 19 minutes of play. Isaiah would finish the month averaging 15.4 PPG, playing 26.5 MPG; he was clearly still getting acclimated to playing, and it showed.
Not yet ready to play back-to back nights, Isaiah Thomas did not play January 3. That game was actually against Boston and would have been his first game against his former team since he was traded. Since he was not playing that night, Isaiah asked Boston not to play a tribute video showing his time as a Boston Celtic. IT wanted to be playing when the video was shown.
The problem was that the next time the Cavs played Boston (February 11) Paul Pierce’s number 34 was being retired. Pierce (after “initially” saying it was okay) said he did not want Thomas being honored the same night as him. What ensued was a back and forth in the media, with Thomas not relenting, saying it was simply just a video that would be played for a few minutes during the game. Celtics fans were split, with some becoming more annoyed with Isaiah since he was traded. The appreciated the memories they gave them, but they saw this as a sign of disrespect to Pierce. Paul played in Boston for 15 seasons as opposed to Isaiah’s 2.5 seasons as a Celtics, and the belief was he did not deserve to ruin the night of Pierce.
On the 16th, Isaiah finally gave up his effort. In a conversation with Danny Ainge. IT asked for there to be no video tribute. Unfortunately, as time would tell, Isaiah would not even be in the building for the game, as he was traded from Cleveland days before the game.
Isaiah only played 15 games in Cleveland until he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He finished his career as a Cav averaging 14.7 PPG. Also included in the trade was Channing Frye, and a CLE 2018 first round pick. In return, the Cavs received Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
Isaiah Thomas makes his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers. Coming off the bench, IT put up 22 points in 31 minutes versus the Dallas Mavericks; the Lakers would lose the game 123-130.
It is announced that Isaiah Thomas will undergo a procedure on his previously injured hip, ending his 2017-2018 season. Thomas finished the season averaging 15.2 PPG (15.6 PPG in 17 games with the Lakers), a drastic drop from the season before. Isaiah was clearly not the same player from a year ago, as his hip injury had lingering effects. Cleveland nor Los Angeles did not receive the IT of 2016-2017. On the bright side, in getting Isaiah Thomas, the Lakers were able to clear two contracts off of their books for the offseason, which set the path for them to have enough salary cap to sign Rajon Rondo, Lance Stepehenson, and JaVale McGee…
Oh, and that LeBron James guy
Late last Thursday night, it was reported that Isaiah Thomas would sign a one-year deal with the Denver Nuggets worth about $2 million. There was simply not a lot of money available this offseason which, combined with the hip injury, led to their not being a big contract available for IT. Although he was going to receive less than he previously thought (especially following his 2017 season), even $2 million was less that people anticipated (I thought he would receive the MLE… and that he’d end up in Orlando).
The deal Isaiah signed with Denver is clearly a “prove it” deal. We know what Isaiah is at his best, and hopefully with some more time to rest, we will be able to see the Isaiah Thomas that we saw during his time as a Celtic. Denver lacks backcourt depth, so IT will have an opportunity to play a lot (albeit coming off the bench). Hopefully in 2019 when more teams have money to spend, Thomas can receive a long-term contract…
But it should be noted that Isaiah is 29 and will be entering the market again in 2019 at the age of 30. I hope that he is able to get back to 100%, but this injury, as well as the way that Thomas’ plays, and the toll his body takes already due to his small stature, we unfortunately may never see the Thomas of old.
Isaiah Thomas has never quit in his life. Listed at 5’9”, even after a phenomenal college career, he was drafted 60th by the Sacramento Kings in the 2011 NBA Draft. Signing in Phoenix in 2014, Thomas found himself in a backcourt with Eric Beldsoe and Goran Dragic. In what became a steal, the Celtics acquired Isaiah in 2015, and he helped the team finish their season strong, leading the C’s to their first playoff birth since 2013. As the years went by, Isaiah became an All-Star, leading the Celtics to better record each season. The Celtics signed Al Horford in the 2016 offseason, and part of what made the team so alluring was Isaiah Thomas. The next season, IT brought his game to another level, leading the Celtics to the best record in the conference (53-29). In the offseason, the Celtics signed Gordon Hayward.. any yet again, in addition to their young assets, getting to play with Thomas (and Horford) was very appealing.
Although he was traded, Celtics fans owe Isaiah all the thanks in the world. During his 2.25 seasons here, IT helped change the culture of this group, and the effort of the guys on the team today still resembles the effort you commonly saw Isaiah show on a nightly basis. I wish him nothing but the best moving forward.