Isaiah Thomas has a new home where he can prove himself all over again.
The former All-Star guard will join his fourth team in two years after agreeing to a one-year, $2 million deal with the Denver Nuggets, according to ESPN.
The move caps an turbulent 12 months for the 29-year-old, who settled for the veteran’s minimum with Denver after last summer declaring himself a max contract player and saying the Boston Celtics would have to “bring the Brinks truck out” to re-sign him.
Now, Thomas will attempt to rebuild his value to capture an elusive payday in free agency next summer.
In the Nuggets, Thomas joins a young team poised and talented enough to make a playoff run. He’ll also reunite with head coach Mike Malone, who coached Thomas when he was on the Sacramento Kings in 2013-14.
Thomas is expected to come off the bench, but play significant minutes, as he did in the second half of last season as a sixth man for the Los Angeles Lakers, and in 214-15 when he split time with the Phoenix Suns and Celtics.
It may not be a tailor-made role where Thomas can start, carry the scoring load and put up All-Star numbers, but that kind of opportunity was going to be difficult for him to come by this summer after his disappointing 2017-18 campaign.
You know Ima run it back up killa https://t.co/TkeKHidZf0— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) July 13, 2018
He only appeared in 15 games for the Cavaliers and averaged 14.7 points on 36.1 per cent shooting before being traded to the Lakers, where he finished the year by averaging 15.6 points on 32.7 per cent shooting.
Thomas’ hip injury, which he suffered while he was in Boston, was part of the reason why the Celtics shipped him to Cleveland and why he struggled so much on the court at his next two stops. In March, he underwent hip surgery with the hope of putting the injury completely in the rear-view mirror, but it’s yet to be seen if Thomas can still be the player he once was.
If he can return to full health – a big ‘if’ considering the seriousness of hip injuries and the impact they can have on a 5-foot-9, undersized player – Thomas has the chance to write another chapter in his underdog story.
As someone who was taken with the last pick in the draft back in 2011 and then passed around the league before turning into an MVP candidate, Thomas has already proven he can blow away expectations.
If he’s still capable of being a star player in this league, Thomas has an opportunity – perhaps a final one – to show that.
Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma will undoubtedly be under the spotlight, but it may be Josh Hart – the least heralded member of the Lakers’ young core – who ends up being one of the most important role players on the team.
As someone who can shoot and defend multiple positions well, the second-year wing possess qualities that make him an ideal running partner next to James.
For all the talk of the Lakers moving away from the player archetype that the Cleveland Cavaliers focused on surrounding James with, 3-and-D types remain valuable, not only as LeBron teammates but in the league in general.
After being drafted 30th overall in last year’s draft and coming into the league with relatively low expectations, Hart showed his polish as a four-year player in college at Villanova. His averages of 7.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists didn’t jump off the page, but perhaps most encouraging, offensively speaking, was his 39.6 per cent shooting from deep on 3.1 attempts per game.
His ability to defend one through four with tenacity was equally impressive, and if summer league is any indication, Hart may be another level this coming season.
In two summer league games in Sacramento, Hart had 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting, including 4-of-9 from long range. Through three games in Las Vegas, he’s averaging 23.3 points on 48 per cent shooting and is 12-of-27 from 3.
In the Lakers’ most recent game, a 109-92 win over the New York Knicks, Hart also took on the challenge of defending Kevin Knox after the ninth overall draft pick started catching fire in the third quarter.
Knox is far from an established star scorer, but the fluid 6-foot-9 forward is the type of player Hart may be able to guard next season so James doesn’t have to over-extend himself on that end of the floor.
It also looks like Hart has improved as a ball-handler and scorer inside the arc, which should make him more of an all-around threat.
He’s not going to be the Robin to James’ Batman, but he could be an important piece to the puzzle.
While NBA commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t agree with the narrative that the Golden State Warriors’ dominance is ruining the league, he does feel changes to the system could improve competitive balance across the board.
Speaking after the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Silver addressed the NBA’s current state of affairs and discussed potential changes that could come down the line to the salary cap, the one-and-done rule, playoff realignment and more.
Golden State’s firm hold at the top of the league’s hierarchy has been a bone of contention among fans and followers, with the star-laden team having won three championships in the past four years.
More than how much they’ve won, for many the issue has been how they’ve done it, with Kevin Durant’s decision to join in free agency in the summer of 2016 causing an uproar.
That feeling was only exacerbated this month when the Warriors landed four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins on a risk-free one-year, $5.3 million deal to bolster their lineup.
Though the Warriors’ ownership is footing a hefty bill to keep its talented core together, the soft salary cap is allowing them to do so. Silver feels looking at cap space and how it relates to the market could be the starting point for create more of an equal opportunity.
“I am not here to say we have a problem,” Silver said. “I love where the league is right now. But I think we can create a better system. We have learned from each successive deals, we try new things, we make predictions about how caps and exceptions will work, we have economists who come in and the union does as well, but it is not a perfect science in trying to predict the behavior of our teams and things change in the marketplace as well. I don’t think it is necessarily per se bad that the Warriors are so dominant.
“As I have said before, we are not trying to create some sort of forced parity. What we are really focused on is parity of opportunity… there are changes we can make to the system and I think we will create a more competitive balance and a more equality of opportunity. And the discussion in the room, people weren’t coming in necessarily complaining, but I think as good business people do, they are looking out to the future and saying how can we improve things.”
Adam Silver makes it clear that free agency will be moved up from midnight EST on July 1 to a more reasonable/TV friendly hour by next summer.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 11, 2018
When it comes to the age limit for draft eligibility, Silver said he’s ready for the rule to change.
Currently, players are required to spend a year removed from high school before entering the league. There has been chatter the league will revert to allowing players to be drafted out of high school, potentially by 2021, but Silver expects to discuss the topic with the National Basketball Players Association before anything is formalised.
“My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change,” Silver said. “It won’t come immediately. But when I’ve weighed the pros and cons, given that Condoleezza Rice and her commission have recommended to the NBA that those one-and-done players now come directly into the league and in essence the college community is saying `We do not want those players anymore,’ I think that tips the scale in my mind.”
Silver also touched on playoff realignment and its feasibility.
With a clear imbalance right now between the loaded Western Conference and weaker Eastern Conference, the idea of seeding playoff teams one through 16 – regardless of standing in their respective conference – has been thrown around.
Silver said the concept has “real appeal”, but suggested travel could increase by “roughly 40-50 per cent”, making it a difficult proposition.
Whether or not anything actually changes is unknown, but Silver’s track record indicates the NBA will at least explore everything they can to improve their product.