Last summer, Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday signed a five year deal for $126 million. Holiday hasn’t been an all All-Star in five years and he has never been All-NBA. He has never averaged 20 points a game and his playoff experience is pretty small, 21 games. This season, he is making 40% of his jumpers which is pretty Jrue Holiday standard, averaging 18 points which is a career high and 48% of his shots swish. It’s probably the best you are going to get out of Holiday who is playing with two All-Stars in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. But if Jrue Holiday and his a little bit better than average self snagged a cool $100 million and change, what is Isaiah Thomas worth? That is question number one. And question number two, should the Cavs pay it?
First the IT careeer. I’ll skip over the part where he was the last pick in the Kyrie Irving draft, and then was traded from 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. It’s pretty understandable why he has a Sisyphus like rock on his shoulder. He is getting technicals at a Draymond Green speed. Two nights ago, he whacked Andrew Wiggins in the face. He’s pretty tense right about now. But as for the money, what has he done?
He has done this.
444 career games. 19.1 career average. 5 assists. Last season for the Celtics, 28.9 points, 37.9% from three and the best scorer in the 4th quarter. He singlehandedly won playoff games for the Celtics. He played through trauma after the death of his sister and took no time off. He has been a consistent three point shot maker. His lowest three point average is this year after just three games and that’s 35.3%. HIs lowest field goal percentage was three years ago, 42%. His fewest trips to the line was his rookie year. Every year he has been in the league, he has had an offensive rating over 110. He has had five 20.0+ PER seasons. He performs in the playoffs. He has played in 25 playoff games and is averaging 22.6 points.
He was an All-Star twice, All-NBA once. He was fifth in 3-pointers last season, top-5 in free throws made the last two seasons, top-10 in points the last two seasons. He was the third leading scorer last year with the 7th best PER. His career offensive rating is 115.8.
His career numbers and his consistency scream max player contract yes. Except for the tiny little whisper in the room. His defense is abysmal, not becasue of effort but because of size. 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, he 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 says his hip is going south on him and he is compromised. Isaiah says differently. In the four months of the regular season that is left and the playoff roundabout, the schedule is just too short to be able to really sum it up.
His defense and his recent health history makes a full max contract a gamble.
But Isaiah can put the ball in the hole. Last season, the best of his career, he played 76 games. He had 31 games over 30 points. He had a 52 point game against the Heat, a 44 point game against Memphis and Toronto. The NBA is about scoring. He was second last year in Offensive Win Shares. The last four years, he finished in the top-10 in Offensive Box Plus/Minus. He was the third leading scorer in the NBA in 2016-17.
And so he makes you think about the gamble. Is Isaiah a worse gamble than a 18 point Jrue Holiday? Isaiah is a better scorer, and equal facilitator and Holdiay’s defense may be slightly better but not that much. He’s not wowing anyone.
But should the Cavs empty the bank?
It depends on what the Cavs are faced with. So much about IT and the year he will have is unknown. He is just getting started. Add in the LeBron factor. If LeBron stays, it’s hard to justify a IT contract. LeBron will suppress some of those 4th quarter numbers. But if LeBron bolts for the west coast, the Cavs will have a lottery pick and IT, a veteran who can carry a team by himself as long as the rest of the crew is being coached well. I don’t think any other NBA team is going to give IT the max. It is pretty much the Cavs or bust.
If the Cavs hedge their bet and decide they can withstand the loss of LeBron and Isaiah, and that the fan base will just keep on keepin’ on, then they need to think again. History says no.
In the 2010-2013 seasons in which LeBron was gone, there wasn’t a star. The attendance dropped from 100% in LBJ’s last season, to 97.8% in 2010-11, 77.5% in 2011-12, 78.7% in 2012-13 and 84.3% in 2013-14. In LeBron’s first season back, attendance was 100%. So having a star matters. Isaiah will keep the fans coming even if the Cavs are a middle of the road team. With Isaiah and Kevin Love they are already better than two-thirds of the east. It’s not like the Cavs will fall off the cliff and win 15 games. The business of basketball is going to be heavy on giving Isaiah the max if LeBron bolts. If LeBron stays, no way is the Brinks truck backing up.
The Cavs would be stupid to bid against themselves.