Isaiah Thomas’ painful body is like that movie the War of the Roses. At every turn there is abject misery that he has to overcome by working through the suffering. One eye is on the present, one on the future. But the right now just hurts like hell. Like his 2018-19 paycheck. He signed for the minimum with the Denver Nuggets. It’s a terrible crash. No Brinks truck forthcoming.
The Nuggets will probably be a playoff team. They have an unsung star in Nikola Jokic. They have a nice point guard in Jamal Murray, an Isaiah Thomas opposite, 6-4 and a lottery pick, but not the scorer IT is. The Nuggets have assembled pieces that fit and a coach that has coached IT before in Sacramento. For one year Thomas can prove his worth to a skeptical league. Or for one year Thomas will be what many think he is but won’t say out loud, a banged up player who had one good season in a system designed for him.
The Isaiah strategy, at 5-9, was always to be a dead eye scorer and clutch shot maker. But with a bad hip, he was just an ordinary 39% scorer, nothing special.
What Isaiah is struggling with is history. A torn labrum in the hip is a devastating injury. Jonny Flynn was a lottery pick and a smaller NBA guard (6-0) in 2009, a number six pick. He tore his labrum, had surgery at the end of his rookie year. He played two more NBA seasons and was a shell of himself. At the age of 23 his NBA career was finished.
The labrum is the cartilige that is around the rim of the hip socket. The femur cannot fit. Many trainers and surgeons blame the tear not on a single play- baseball players, hockey players, football players and basketball players all suffer the torn labrum- but on the intensity in sports training at a young age that weakens the muscle and cartilige.
But Isaiah doesn’t care how he got it. He just wants it fixed. He cannot play an entire season with the pain and the pain and lack of mobility affects the Isaiah skill: shot making.
The Lakers and Cavs got damaged goods and the Celtics got Kyrie Irving. It’s not that Kyrie isn’t damaged himself but it’s not the kind of brokenness that you can’t recover from. Kyrie may be injury prone but he’s had knee issues before. He’ll survive this one.
As for Isaiah. He had a nice Lakers interlude, a sort of honeymoon in an arranged marriage. There wasn’t ever going to be a personal Brinks truck parked in his driveway and let me add Danny Ainge got rid of Isaiah because Boston trainers never thought he’d recover from that hip. In the melodrama, Isaiah went back and forth as his emotions spiraled. He told Sam Amick of USA Today after he was traded to the Lakers, he wasn’t going to be a sixth man. And then he told Lakers beat writer Tania Ganguli he is keeping all options open. Even he doesn’t know what his body is going to do.
There is something a little sad about it because of everything Isaiah has overcome, his size, the 60th pick in the draft, the death of his sister and then balling out in the playoffs of 2017. He had to compensate for being a small player in a league of giants and he did a pretty good job at it.
Isaiah is a good pick and roll point guard who can see the floor, legitimize bigs and be in the moment when the moment is big. When he is healthy, that is. His 2016-17 was brilliant. He was 5th in MVP voting.
But. You are not paid on your past. You are paid on right now and your body. You are paid on what you can do in the future and there are doubts. He was the 94th ranked point guard according to Real Plus-Minus. Who was 95th? Sac rookie De’Aaron Fox.
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 even if he recovers from this?
Danny Ainge believed the Isaiah hip was going south on him and that Isaiah would forever be compromised and nothing we saw in Cleveland or in Los Angeles screams out anything different. This is the truth. There isn’t a NBA team that needs Isaiah Thomas to start for them. But he needed a NBA team before Denver agreed to make him the backup. He was the one lacking leverage.
No one still knows the labrum situation. LaMarcus Aldridge dealt with it. Alex Rodriguez dealt with it. It’s not unusual except it’s Isaiah. The hip took away what he can do better than a lot of people his size. He is not being stubborn in his self-assessment of what he is in the league when everything is right and it’s a perfect storm. But this Isaiah is complicated. The deal to Denver says as much.
$2 million isn’t $126 million though and you can’t spin it. Humility is here.