- Isaiah Thomas is undergoing a clean-up of his hip, likely ending his season.
- Thomas is a free agent this summer, and after saying last July that he would command a max contract, has seen his fortunes change dramatically after a turbulent season.
- Thomas’ health and future in the NBA remain major question marks, and it seems more likely that he’ll have to prove himself on a shorter deal this offseason than on a max contract.
Last July, Isaiah Thomas was coming off a triumphant season in which he led the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals, averaged over 28 points per game, and proved to be one of the most dynamic scoring guards in the NBA.
On the verge of a contract season, Thomas told CSN New England that he was a “max guy,” and that teams, namely the Celtics, would have to “bring out the Brinks truck.”
“I’m happy for all the guards and all the other guys getting their money because they deserve it, but my time’s coming,” he said.
Later that summer, Thomas was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving, and reports revealed that the hip injury he was battling (which shut his season down early in 2016-17) was worse than previously thought. After just 15 ugly games, the Cavs traded Thomas to the Los Angeles Lakers where he could play a more prominent role and prove himself healthy and productive once again.
On Wednesday it was announced that after just 17 games with the Lakers, Thomas is now being shut down to undergo a cleanup of his hip that is expected to be season-ending.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi, the Lakers will still have interest in re-signing Thomas this offseason, but he may be lower on their priority list as they intend to chase stars like LeBron James and Paul George.
More startling is how quickly Thomas’ standing in the league has fallen over one season. Most observers didn’t think Thomas was fully healthy when he returned to action with the Cavs, and at the very least, had not shaken off the rust. Add that he had to learn to play off the ball more alongside LeBron James, and the partnership did not go as expected.
With the Lakers, Thomas has improved somewhat, averaging 15 points on an inefficient 38% from the field, 32% from three, but those numbers still represent improvements over his stats in Cleveland. The Lakers have outscored opponents with Thomas on the court, as part of a 9-10 stretch since trading for him.
It’s unclear if a max contract was ever in Thomas’ future. After all, at his peak, he was an undersized guard who, despite explosive scoring ability, was also a mismatch on defense against nearly every team. If he weren’t getting a max contract, he would at least receive a deal more significant than the four-year, $27 million contract he signed in 2014.
Now it’s hard to imagine teams making any long-term commitments to Thomas, given the uncertainty of his health. With a lack of cap space already set to plague free agency this offseason, Thomas will have a limited number of bidders and likely even fewer willing to bring out Brinks trucks.
Thomas may have to settle for a short-term contract this offseason, perhaps a one-year deal or two-year deal with a player or team option in the second year. He could re-enter free agency at 30 or 31, potentially after proving he could stay healthy and return to being an offensive force.
Unfortunately for Thomas, after seven years of having to prove himself in the NBA, the wait may continue.