The Cleveland Cavaliers continue to get good news on the Isaiah Thomas front, even if that news continues to come with no definitive update on the status of the All-NBA point guard’s injured hip.
Thomas participated in offensive drills at Cavs practice for the first time on Sunday, according to Cleveland.com. After the session in Detroit, which included five-on-zero non-contact work, Thomas said it was the “hardest I’ve run” during the rehab process and he “felt good for the most part.”
The two-time All-Star has experienced no setbacks since the Cavaliers outlined his recovery following the August trade that was delayed due to concerns about his hip, per Cleveland.com. That presumably means he’s on target for the same “by January” timeline the team set in training camp, if not sooner.
Non-contact drills are the first step in any player’s rehab process, and there are several more major hurdles to clear — from 1-on-1 contact work to 3-on-3 and ultimately 5-on-5 practice. He still hasn’t begun cutting or changing direction, per Cleveland.com. Even after all that, there’s conditioning, game readiness and the mental aspect of returning from injury that can create roadblocks between now and Christmas. Still, Sunday was the best sign yet that we will see Thomas in a Cavs uniform this season.
Thomas initially aggravated the injury this past March before suffering a series of setbacks in the playoffs and being ruled out for the Eastern Conference finals with a right femoral-acetabular impingement with labral tear. It’s a hip injury that has impeded the careers of other NBA players, and it created enough doubt about his long-term viability, along with his impending free agency, that the Boston Celtics were willing to package their top-five MVP candidate in a deal for Kyrie Irving.
Thomas told Cleveland.com that the Cavaliers have assured him there’s no rush for his return, even “if it takes until June,” at the end of which he will become an unrestricted free agent. Thomas, who has on multiple occasions said any team interested in signing him will have to “back up the Brinks truck,” is well aware of the importance behind returning at 100 percent — for both the Cavaliers and himself.
“I’m protecting myself, so, even if they wanted me to hurry back, I’m not going to hurry back, just because I’ve got a long career ahead of me and an important summer as well,” Thomas told Cleveland.com on Sunday. “So, I’ve got to make sure I’m 100 percent healthy before I step out on the floor. But these guys have not rushed me one bit. They’ve taken their time with me and I appreciate that. Because most teams, they want you out there, especially if things aren’t going well.”
Things haven’t gone particularly well in Cleveland. Owners of the NBA’s worst defense, the Cavs started 5-7 before a recent four-game win streak pushed them above .500. Meanwhile, LeBron James has lamented his team’s lack of a secondary scorer and playmaker, which is precisely what Thomas could be if he returns to being the player who averaged 28.9 points and 5.9 assists last season.
James insisted his comments were not meant to burden Thomas, but the Cavs are expected to start Jose Calderon at point guard against the Detroit Pistons on Monday. Starter Derrick Rose is nursing a left ankle sprain that’s expected to keep him sidelined for another couple weeks, and reserve guard Iman Shumpert out with a left knee injury. It’s impossible not to notice the need at the position.
“When you’re playing without a point guard, that’s tough,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said on Sunday of playing without Rose and Shumpert, via The Athletic. “You can kind of fill other guys in different spots and positions, but that point guard position is tough to keep throwing guys in and out.”
The Cavs have even called on James to officially start at point guard, and that’s with him already carrying the burden of a league-high 38.6 minutes per game. A healthy Thomas could lighten LeBron’s load by sharing playmaking duties, either as a primary ball-handler or off-ball scorer in lineups with the four-time MVP, or as a steady hand running the second unit when James rests on the bench.
Ideally, the sooner Thomas returns, the earlier Cleveland can figure out that dynamic before venturing on what the former Celtics star hopes is a lengthy playoff run past his former team. Sunday’s practice session was merely the latest sign that the Cavs won’t have to wait too long to begin that process.
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