Isaiah Thomas is self-aware enough to realize his value as a free agent has plummeted like Bitcoin in 2018. This time last year, Thomas, whose contract expires this summer, was expecting Boston to “back up the Brinks truck” and offer him a $200 million super-max contract. After rushing back from a torn labrum in his hip, a regular max contract isn’t even in the cards. Instead, Thomas insisted to USA Today’s Sam Amick that he’s still a viable starting point guard in the NBA.
“I’m not no sixth man,” he declared in an interview with USA TODAY Sports this week. “And I won’t be a sixth man [in the future]. I just want everybody to know that, like clear as can be. I’m a two-time All-Star and a starter who has done things that a lot of people in this league haven’t done [when] given that opportunity.
“But I got traded into a situation I can’t control. There’s nothing bad against [Lakers coach] Luke Walton. There’s nothing bad against the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity they’ve given me, and then [we’ll] end the season off strong.”
Thomas, 29, has had the most journeyman season ever for a player who finished fifth in the MVP vote the season prior before hauling his squad to the conference finals. He’s been traded twice and been prickly with new teammates after a harmonious two seasons in Boston. Since being traded from Cleveland, Thomas’ game has been trending up and he’s flourishing as a sixth man off the bench.
However, this was always a short-term marriage of convenience. The Lakers are pursuing certified max stars and Thomas isn’t that caliber of a player.
The market for volume-scoring point guards in the sub-6-foot category coming off hip surgery is bearish. Thomas is no longer in a favorable position entering free agency, but there are starting opportunities for him out there. L.A.’s other professional basketball team could take a flyer on Thomas to balance out Patrick Beverley’s lockdown defense. Orlando and San Antonio won’t break the bank, but have the flexibility to dole out moderate team-friendly deals.
Thomas’ market value will be limited by his slower first step, unwillingness to come off the bench and sub-par shooting percentage. However, his 30 percent shooting on triples feels like an aberration related to his injury recovery and he’s gotten progressively better with each game.
Thomas can’t bet on a lucrative multiyear deal, but he is still a starter in a league where Eflrid Payton, D.J. Augustin, Darren Collison and Emmanuel Mudiay are playing starters minutes.
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