Isaiah has had a nice Lakers interlude, a sort of honeymoon in an arranged marriage that he sees ending once April comes. Isaiah concedes he isn’t getting a max deal from anyone. There won’t be a personal Brinks truck parked in his driveway. But he is not giving in on his desire to be a starter. He told Sam Amick of USA Today, “I’m not no sixth man. And I won’t be a sixth man (in the future). I just want everyone to know that.”
Okay, we know. But be careful what you ask for. It just may backfire.
Look around the league. Where is Isaiah going to be a starter? Or better yet, who needs a point guard? Orlando, maybe. The Pacers. The Spurs but it’s hard to see Isaiah meshing with Popovich. Isaiah is a prickly personality plus the Spurs love selflessness which Isaiah is not. He is not the kind of player that is just going to do what the team needs. Isiah thinks about Isaiah. It’s not even about winning. It’s about him playing 32 minutes a game. You get the sense he’d be happy on a team that loses if he was the main guy. In a roundabout way, that is hurting his prospects in free agency, his stubborness to not be self aware.
Despite not accepting the painful, it doesn’t change the facts. Isaiah Thomas doesn’t have a starters game post torn labrum. Torn labrum or not, it was always going to be a challenge because he can’t guard anyone. He has to perform on the offensive end incredibly well.
Isaiah is good pick and roll point guard who can see the floor, legitimize bigs and be in the moment when the moment is big. There is a case for Orlando because they need a point guard to make Aaron Gordon better. But at the end of the day, will his ego get in the way? Is he creating a narrative for himself of being a bad teammate?
Isaiah has a major chip on his shoulder- okay an attitude bigger than Zeus. But so would you if you had the season he had last year, 5th in MVP voting and you’ve been traded three times, you are not healthy and cannot do what you used to do, everyone is clowning you and you have seen all that money drain away. I’ll skip over the part where he was the last pick in the Kyrie Irving draft, and then was given away by Sacramento who didn’t want to pay him, and then was traded from Phoenix after Goran Dragic- not Isaiah Thomas- requested a trade, and then was traded from the Celtics because of his devolving hip, at least that’s what the Celtics say. And then traded from the Cavs. It’s pretty understandable why he has a Sisyphus like rock on his shoulder. Remember that game in January when he whacked Andrew Wiggins in the face? He’s pretty tense right about now. But as for the money, what has he done?
He says everything. But. You are not paid on your past. You are paid on what you can do in the future and there are doubts. He is shooting 39%. His 35% from three isn’t a bad number for anyone not named Isaiah. With the Lakers, his assist numbers are the second best of his career and that’s as a bench player. But his defense is just miserable. That is one of the knocks of him ever being a starter. He has to be paired with a dominant defensive two guard. Perhaps in Indy paired with Victor Oladipo, it might work. But there is no escaping he is the 91st ranked point guard according to Real Plus-Minus. Who is 92nd? Derrick Rose.
His size is what no one wants to really talk about out loud but for a little guy who is a priority of the defense, Isaiah is going to get banged up on screens and at the rim and just basic cheap shots. NBA contracts are guaranteed contracts. Can he hold up? Is his body strong enough?
Danny Ainge believed his hip was going south on him and that Isaiah would forever be compromised and nothing we have seen, in Cleveland or in Los Angeles, screams out anything different. His defense and his recent health history makes a starter job a gamble. This is the truth. There isn’t a NBA team that needs Isaiah Thomas to start for them. But he needs a NBA team. He is the one lacking leverage.
The guards similar to Isaiah in age and game, Darren Collison (Indiana) and D.J. Augustin (Orlando), are the 14th and 28th ranked point guards according to Real Plus-Minus. Collison has one more year at $10 million. Augustin has two more years at $7.5 million. Their 2017-18 has been highly efficient which is the name of the game in the modern NBA.
|Isaiah Thomas (29 years old)||15.7||37.8%||30.5%||5.0||13.8|
|D.J. Augustin (30 years old)||9.9||44.9%||43.1%||3.7||15.5|
|Darren Collison (30 years old)||12.6||49.5%||43.4%||5.3||18.7|
It’s hard to see either Indiana or Orlando demoting Collison or Augustin to the bench in favor of Isaiah when Isaiah hasn’t proved he is efficient. While he may be clinging to the past, the rest of the NBA is not. It’s not a sentimental league. They make their decisions based on right now. All those last year Isaiah stats are last year.
And so that leaves him between a rock and a hard place. He is being stubborn about what he wants but he doesn’t have control in getting it. Of course, he can go elsewhere like China where they play zero defense. But when he comes back he still is a bench player. He may not see it that way but his game is doing all the talking. He doesn’t have a starter’s game or attitude. Leadership, efficiency and selflessness are absent.