Isaiah Thomas had a rough year.
The Celtics traded him to the Cavaliers. He missed most of the season with a hip injury. In between, he played destructively bad for the Cavs and Lakers and got run out of Cleveland, in part, for making waves in the locker room. Free agency was especially cruel, Thomas’ Brinks-truck dreams ending in a minimum salary from the Nuggets – a historically low figure for someone who finished top-five in MVP voting just two seasons prior.
On a bright note: Thomas ended his feud with Celtics president Danny Ainge. In fact, those two spoke during Thomas’ free agency.
Before finalizing the agreement with Denver, Thomas had reached out to Boston GM Danny Ainge. They talked for 15 to 20 minutes, Thomas says, and he told Ainge: “If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back.”
Ainge says his mind was open to the idea, but the Celtics needed to work through Marcus Smart‘s restricted-free-agency discussions before they could consider making an offer to Thomas. Ainge was willing to continue the conversation, but Thomas accepted the Nuggets’ offer before Boston had reached its new deal with Smart.
“S—, I’d have gone back,” Thomas says. “I don’t hold grudges.”
Thomas played his best basketball in Boston. Brad Stevens empowered Thomas as a go-to offensive player and successfully hid him on defense. I understand the appeal of going back.
But that Thomas could never return to those Celtics. He’s older, and his hip injury might have sapped his athleticism. Boston acquired Kyrie Irving, and Terry Rozier broke out. Marcus Smart remains.
A reunion would have likely ended in disappointment.
Instead, Thomas will try to prove himself in Denver, backing up Jamal Murray. Thomas is aware of his standing, and his interview is both endearing and sympathetic. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and carries a chip on his shoulder – the reason so many of us are drawn to him. And he’s keenly aware that, in a league where so many players are paid based on past performance, he’s judged by a hip injury teams believe will hinder him going forward.
Thomas, as always, seems driven to prove himself. And maybe he will. Returning to a reserve role isn’t glamorous, but there’s an opportunity with the Nuggets.
But I also fear, no matter how well Thomas plays next season, teams will be apprehensive of a 30-year-old 5-foot-9 point guard with a history of hip problems in 2019 free agency. He might be stuck in a no-win situation and just can’t get his big payday.
Especially after this interview, though, I’m excited to watch him try.