Isaiah Thomas has left the Lakers to get further medical opinion on the torn labrum in his hip. His 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.
The Isaiah strategy, at 5-9, was always to be a dead eye scorer and clutch shot maker. But with a bad hip, he is just an ordinary 39% scorer, nothing special. It is more than Isaiah’s payday slipping out the window. It is Isaiah Thomas’ career that is in flux. First, who is going to sign a player who is physically 30% of who he used to be? And secondarily, if he has surgery, who will Isaiah Thomas become? Was Isaiah’s last great game March 1st against the Heat in Miami: 29 points, 6 assists, 55%, 54% from three?
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. If he has surgery as his only option, he is asking a NBA team to take a flyer and hope and pray. How much is that kind of prayer worth? A two year $9 million per year deal with the second year a team option? It’s a raise from his cheap six million salary he is now getting but it isn’t investing in the unimaginable.
As it is, 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 won’t be a personal Brinks truck parked in his driveway. He went back and forth as his emotions spiraled. He told Sam Amick of USA Today 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. 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 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 even if he recovers through this.
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. 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.
And so that leaves him between a rock and a hard place. But first, he has to get the labrum figured out. LaMarcus Aldridge dealt with it. Alex Rodriguez dealt with it. He’s not unusual except it’s Isaiah. The hip is taking away what he can do better than a lot of people his size. It was refreshing that he walked away from the Lakers. He is not being stubborn. He is real. This injury is hindering and changing his career. It may just end it.