Isaiah Thomas, while stuck on a contract that underpaid him, finished fifth in MVP voting just two years ago.
His reward in free agency last summer: a minimum contract.
A hip injury kept Thomas out then ineffective then out again. He signed with the Nuggets hoping to reestablish his value, but he has missed most of this season. He has played nine games since debuting a month ago and has struggled.
Denver coach Michael Malone shortened his rotation during a win over the Timberwolves last night, and that meant a DNP-CD for Thomas.
Malone said he plans on keeping the rotation smaller down the final few weeks of the regular season, and had explained the rotation to Thomas, whom he’d previously coached in Sacramento, before the game.
“Oh, you definitely talk to him (about the decision), and I’ll keep that conversation between IT and myself,” Malone said. “(It’s) not an easy conversation, but that’s my job.”
“Obviously, 16 (regular-season) games to go, (we’re going to) try to find a rhythm,” said Malone, who didn’t play Thomas in the 26-point victory. “And a rotation that I feel gives us the best chance to win now, and into the playoffs.”
The Nuggets (44-22) are second in the Western Conference, 1.0 game behind the Warriors and 2.5 games ahead of the Rockets. An easier first-round matchup is important. Home-court advantage in later rounds is important. This is the time to push for the best possible seed.
On another team, Thomas might get more leeway to shake off his rust. But in Denver, Morris is such a clearly superior option.
Thomas plays a high-usage style, and his 5-foot-9 frame limits him defensively. So, when he’s shooting poorly, he’s especially destructive to his team. Thomas just hasn’t found his groove this season.
It’s unfortunate Thomas will again enter free agency facing immense doubts about his ability. He just didn’t have much opportunity to prove himself this season.
But this is what the Nuggets had to do. Thanks to Morris, they’re too good for a reclamation project right now.