The Huskies will retire Thomas’ jersey on Saturday. His NBA days have been wild lately, but Isaiah has an uncanny history of proving his doubters wrong.
It’s not often you feel bad for someone getting paid $6.2 million for doing what he’s always dreamed of. It’s not often you feel bad for the starting point guard on one of sports’ most storied franchises, either.
But in this case, Isaiah Thomas is worthy of such sympathy. These past 10 months have been brutal.
Thomas will be in Alaska Airlines Arena Saturday for his jersey-retirement ceremony. It’s sure to be a joyous moment for one of the greatest Husky hoopers ever.
But then it’s back to the rebuilding Lakers, who will likely bring him off the bench when Lonzo Ball returns from injury. Man … how did this happen?
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It was just last February that Thomas was in his native Tacoma for the opening of Isaiah Thomas Court — a $150,000 renovation at the Al Davis Boys & Girls Club. He choked back tears while speaking to scores of kids, knowing his life was at an all-time high.
The man was scoring over 29 points per game for the then first-place Celtics. He was averaging more fourth-quarter points than anybody had in the past 20 years.
The last pick of the 2011 NBA draft was suddenly a legitimate MVP candidate despite earning a fifth of the eventual MVP’s salary. Thomas, 29, was nearing the top of the mountain — then an avalanche hit.
In mid-April, just before the playoffs began, Isaiah’s 22-year-old sister, Chyna, died in a car accident. The next day, Thomas could be seen crying in the pregame layup line.
But his devastation didn’t seem to affect his play, as he scored 33 points on 10-of-18 shooting. And it wasn’t even close to his best game of the postseason.
A couple of weeks later, Thomas poured in 53 points in a Game 2 win over the Wizards. He’d scored 33 points in Game 1, and eventually led Boston to a 4-2 series win.
But then came Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Cleveland, when Thomas tore the labrum in his hip. His career has been on the downslope ever since.
First, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge traded Thomas to the Cavs for Kyrie Irving, shocking Isaiah and angering some fans. Thomas had endeared himself to Boston as he revitalized the franchise, and found himself exchanging text messages with Tom Brady.
In Cleveland, though, the 5-foot-9 Thomas was a major defensive liability whose offensive superpowers vanished. The Cavaliers went 7-8 in the 15 games he played, which included three losses by at least 24 points.
Granted, Thomas wasn’t a perfect citizen during his time in Cleveland.
He griped about the team’s lack of in-game adjustments, and reportedly called out teammate Kevin Love for leaving a game early with an illness.
Justified actions? Maybe. But probably inappropriate for a brand new member of a championship team.
Still, it was hard seeing the Cavs trade him to the Lakers last week in an effort to improve. The move punctuated one of the more dramatic one-year regressions in NBA history.
Thomas is averaging just 15.2 points per game this season, shooting 37.4 percent from the field, and according to ESPN’s Real Plus Minus — is the ninth worst defender in the league.
The worst part of all this is that Thomas hits free agency this summer. Had free agency come last year, he likely would have signed a max contract assuming he stayed healthy.
Now a guy who looked like he was going to make more than $30 million a year might not get any more than what he’s making now. Not when you consider how hip labrum tears have so detrimentally affected players such as Jonny Flynn and Michael Carter Williams, as ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh pointed out.
I don’t mean to turn a multimillionaire into a boo-hoo story, but surely Thomas deserved better. From a death in the family to a steep career descent, it can’t be easy for him to cope.
All this said, Isaiah has an uncanny history of proving his doubters wrong. Before this year, he improved dramatically nearly every season and was among the NBA’s elite.
Hopefully, there are more surprises coming. Hopefully, this season is an outlier. Hopefully, the joy Thomas feels at Hec Ed Saturday will reappear throughout his playing days.