“Uphill,” The Isaiah Thomas Story

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Yes, the odds are stacked against Isaiah. But that hasn’t stopped him before. 

First, it was all about Kyrie wanting to get out of Cleveland. Then it was all about whether Isiah Thomas was healthy.

Courtesy: Sokkaa

We’re now one week removed from the blockbuster trade that capped off a ludicrous NBA offseason. And, as the dust settles, one thing’s for sure – opening night of the NBA just got a whole lot more interesting!

The 2017-2018 NBA season will kick off with the Cleveland Cavaliers playing the Boston Celtics. It will be Kyrie v. LeBron on Night One. But don’t forget about another key player–that 5’9″, 28-year-old point guard who has a new home in Cleveland.

He’s Isiah Thomas. Thomas is in the last year of his contract and is also coming off a hip injury. He might have the most to play for, too. That’s because he has taken a long journey in a very short time–and it has been uphill all the way.

2011-2014, Sacramento Kings

Courtesy: Huskey Haul

After being projected to go mid-to-late second round (Draft Express and Bleacher Report), Thomas fell to the last pick in the 2011 draft. After just barely getting his name called on draft night, Isaiah started 37 games his rookie season before progressing to be a King’s starter the next two seasons in back-to-back, disappointing, 28-win seasons.

Despite being in the midst of sub-par win totals–and constantly being looked down upon for his height, literally–Thomas became a 20-point-per-game scorer. He also made history as a member of the only NBA team (that I could find) with three players that averaged 20-points-a-game–the trio of Rudy Gay, Boogie Cousins, and Thomas.

Thomas made it through his rookie contract and signed a four year, $27 million-dollar contract. He went from being the last pick to scoring twenty-points-a-game and leading his team on the hardwood. This would be Home Sweet Home. Right? Well, no.

This would be Home Sweet Home. Right? Well, no.

2014, Phoenix Suns 

In a sign-and-trade deal, the Suns acquired Thomas and added him to what would soon become the most crowded backcourt in the league. After coexisting with Gay and Cousins, Isaiah was now paired with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Three starters for two spots didn’t make sense. And, to no surprise, it didn’t work.

Isaiah went from starter to off-the-bench player, a huge step backward in the trajectory of this young player’s career. His numbers suffered accordingly and, after just 46 games, Isaiah was headed out-of-town.

2014-2017, Boston Celtics

Isaiah arrived in Boston and had a strong finish in the 2014-2015 season. It was a nice consolation prize for being on three teams in two seasons–a typical sign of an NBA journeyman.

Courtesy CSNNE.com

But when the next season rolled around, Thomas had again solidified himself as a starter. He was a budding star on a young roster, back on the right career path.

Now 27-years-old, Isaiah had statistically his best season since year number two in Sacramento, and was selected to his first All-Star team. Most pundits thought that would be the ceiling for this re-established point guard. Instead, Thomas became a gift that kept on giving. He following up good with great the following year.

In 2016-17 Thomas became the 6th Celtic to score 2,000 points in a season, finishing 5th in MVP voting. Boston fans were proud of him, too. He finished 14th in NBA jersey sales and had the city behind him, especially when he returned to the court just days after his sister tragically passed away.

But all that glitters is not gold. In the off-season following his best year (and a first place playoff berth in the East), the Celtics traded him away.

2017-?, Cleveland Cavaliers

Courtesy: YouTube

Let’s face it: Danny Ainge and the Celtics’ front office pulled the rug out from under Thomas. The Celtics had been gathering assets for years–ever since trading their Big 3 in 2013–to rebuild with the intention of surpassing LeBron in the East.

That’s what made the trade devastating for Thomas. The consensus was that he’d be a part of a Celtic “Dream Team,” not a moveable asset. But trading places with Kyrie Irving (the first pick in the 2011 draft) makes Thomas go from the lead man to second, and possibly third, fiddle on his new team–a team with a cloudy future, too–if (as many expect) LeBron departs after this season.

In the final year of his contract–and with a max contract extension on the line–Isaiah Thomas is playing with his back against the wall … again. On top of it, Isaiah is back to playing for pride. He has spent a whole news cycle listening to the media worry about his health, speculating IF he’ll ever be the same on the court again.

Yes, the odds are stacked against Isaiah. But that hasn’t stopped him before.


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