- Isaiah Thomas is reportedly signing a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal with the Denver Nuggets.
- Just one year ago, Thomas said he expected the Boston Celtics to bring out the “Brinks truck” for him following an All-Star season that saw him finish third in the NBA in points per game.
- A hip injury and inability to produce on the court last year seemed to erode Thomas’ market, and now he may be playing for his future.
Point guard Isaiah Thomas has agreed to a one-year, $2 million veteran’s minimum deal with the Denver Nuggets, according to reports.
Thomas had been lingering on the free agent market with few known suitors since his contract expired with the Los Angeles Lakers.
For Thomas, it’s a stunning fall over one year. Last July, Thomas famously told CSN New England that he expected the Celtics to “bring the Brinks truck out.”
Despite the dramatic phrasing, it wasn’t an unreasonable demand by Thomas. The year before, Thomas led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game on 46% shooting, 37% from three. He led the NBA in fourth quarter points, finished 5th in MVP voting, and was the face of a scrappy Celtics team that even took a game from the Cavs in the conference finals.
But during that playoff run, Thomas gritted through a hip injury that might have made things worse. He missed the end of the conference finals when the injury became too much to play through.
When the Celtics traded Thomas to the Cavs as part of a package to land Kyrie Irving last summer, the deal was initially held up over fears about Thomas’ hip. The injury has not had a great track record of successful recoveries in the NBA.
Thomas missed the first two months of the 2017-18 season before returning in December. He struggled out of the gates, looking rusty and not fully recovered. Making matters worse, inner turmoil threatened to blow the Cavs up, with Thomas involved in some of it, resulting in a poor on-court product.
After just two months of action, Thomas was dealt to the Lakers at the trade deadline. With L.A., Thomas played slightly better (though he continued struggling with his shooting) and was reportedly a positive influence on the Lakers’ younger players.
But in March, Thomas had to undergo hip surgery, ending his season and pushing him into the open market on one of the most sour notes possible. Questions remained about his hip, overall health, and future in the league.
On Thursday, Thomas posted several messages on Instagram, reminding the world of how good he was in 2016-17. One image showed him among the NBA’s top scorers that season – Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard – with the caption, “So Quick to forget! I’ll remind them though.”
The one-year, minimum deal is a gamble for Thomas, though one he may have been forced to take. Presumably, if he had bigger and longer offers, he would have taken them.
Thomas’ one-year deal is essentially a “prove it” deal. He likely will come off the bench in Denver, where he’ll have a chance to be a lead scorer for the second unit, giving the Nuggets a boost when their starters are out. If Thomas can capably fill that role and stay healthy, he shouldn’t have a problem commanding another deal next summer.
But if Thomas shoots sub-40% from the field again and struggles to stay healthy, it may put his future up in the air. At 5-foot-9, odds are already stacked against Thomas on both sides of the court. If Thomas can’t prove healthy enough to be the whirling offensive force he was in Boston, how many teams would be willing to gamble on him again?
For the Nuggets, it’s a low-risk, high-reward signing. It’s not unlike the Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins. If Thomas is healthy and can contribute, it’ll be a one-year rental for the Nuggets that could be help propel them to the playoffs. Thomas would almost surely leave next summer for a bigger, longer offer.
Thomas’ future may be riding on his ability to be super-sub for the Nuggets. One year ago, it seemed Thomas might be in line for a nine-digit contract. Now he’s playing on the minimum, likely coming off the bench in a sign of how quickly things can change in the NBA.