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No Brinks truck: Isaiah Thomas takes historic tumble from top five in MVP to minimum salary

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In the summer of 2016, as he was stuck on a relatively low-paying contract he’d signed years earlier and lesser players were landing massive deals, Isaiah Thomas looked ahead to his 2018 free agency: “They better bring out the Brinks truck.” He backed up that statement with a top-five finish in MVP voting then declared again last summer: “I’m a max guy. I deserve the max. … My time is coming. They know they’ve got to bring the Brinks truck.”

Yesterday, Thomas agreed to a one-year, minimum contract with the Nuggets.

Thomas’ fall has been sharp and costly. The Celtics traded him to the Cavaliers last summer, and his physical was so troubling, Boston sent Cleveland an extra pick to complete the deal. Thomas tried to rehab his hip without surgery, missed a long chunk of the season then came back hobbled. Even on a team with LeBron James and slowed himself, Thomas played his same ball-dominant style anyway – to the detriment of the team. Thomas was destructively inefficient as he tried to work his way back. He also played a part in the Cavs’ toxic chemistry. The Cavaliers traded him to the Lakers before the deadline due more to his expiring contract than playing ability. Thomas played a little in Los Angeles then finally underwent surgery.

As he found this summer, there just isn’t much of a market for 29-year-old 5-foot-9 point guards with attitude concerns and far larger health concerns.

Maybe that isn’t fair. Perhaps, Thomas – who was the very last pick in the 2011 draft and has repeatedly exceeded expectations – deserves more benefit of the doubt.

Maybe it is fair. Small guards tend to drop off quickly around Thomas’ age, and his hip injury only exacerbates worry.

It’s definitely historic.

Clyde Drexler earned $1,378,000 while placing second in MVP voting. He earned the same salary the following season then got a raise to $1,578,000 the season after.

That’s the last time a player earned less than Thomas’ $2,029,463 salary for next season while finishing top five for MVP or within two seasons after.

It was also more than 20 years ago.

The salary cap has risen considerably since, especially for the last few years with the new national TV contracts in effect – part of the reason Thomas thought he’d get paid. Instead, he’ll earn less than 2% of the salary cap.

That’s by far the lowest mark for a player in a top-five MVP season or within two seasons after.

Here are the smallest percentages of the salary cap a player earned in a top-five MVP season or within two seasons after since 1991 (as far back as Ryan Bernardoni’s salary data goes):

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Especially disappointing for Thomas: He also ranks No. 2 and No. 4 on the above “leaderboard.” He outperformed his previous contract – a four-year, $27 million deal signed in 2014 – and believed he’d be rewarded handsomely this year. But he got hurt and declined then settled for the minimum.

Only Chris Paul – who finished second for 2008 MVP while still on his rookie-scale contract – comes close to Thomas’ percentage of the salary cap while in a top-five MVP season or within two seasons after. In fact, most of the seasons on the above list were by players on their rookie-scale deals.

The most comparable veterans are Scottie Pippen, who finished sixth for 1996 MVP, and Drexler. Drexler eventually got a raise to a $9.81 million salary (and traded to the Rockets the same season). Pippen also got his massive deal in Houston, part of his trade from the Bulls.

But Thomas’ big payday remains elusive.

He’ll have a chance to prove himself in Denver and regain his Brinks-truck momentum. But he’ll do so backing up Jamal Murray, and Thomas will be on the wrong side of 30 when he re-enters free agency. Even if he stays healthy next season, teams will not forget about his hip injury.

This story probably won’t have a happy ending.

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.

Stephen Curry bounces alley-oop way above rim, Giannis Antetokounmpo slams it down (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry bounced this so high!

I suppose it helps that Giannis Antetokounmpo has such ridiculous reach.

Dirk Nowitzki walks on All-Star court, quickly splashes three threes

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Maybe Dirk Nowitzki shouldn’t retire after this season.

Added to the All-Star Game by Commissioner Adam Silver (along with Dwyane Wade) in what is expected to be the final season for the future Hall of Famer, the greatest shooting big man of all time showed he still has the touch. Entering the game midway through the first quarter, Nowitzki proceeded to quickly splash a couple of threes.

And he was not done yet.

Nowitzki never officially said he was retiring….