How Isaiah Thomas went from a max contract to having to prove himself all over again

How Isaiah Thomas went from a max contract to having to prove himself all over again

It was just over a year ago that Isaiah Thomas stated he was “a max guy, so I deserve the max.”

At the time, Thomas was probably right. Because it was just over a year ago that he was coming off a season in which he led the Celtics on an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals, averaged 28.9 points per game and finished fifth in MVP voting.

As one of the most underpaid players in the league, Thomas knew his payday was finally approaching.

“My time is coming,” Thomas told CSN New England at the time. “They know they’ve got to bring the Brinks truck out.”

That truck never came.

Thomas at the time was entering the final year of a four-year, $27 million contract. Under the belief that he had found a home in Boston after playing for Sacramento and Phoenix, Thomas was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a package for Kyrie Irving.

The trade was nearly voided after Thomas underwent a physical and the Cavaliers became concerned with the severity of his bothersome hip, which he injured in March of 2017 and re-aggravated during the Eastern Conference Finals, forcing him to miss the final three games of the series.

The trade ultimately was completed and Thomas went on to miss the first 36 games of the season. Before he even stepped on the court in a Cavs uniform, his relationship with Cleveland fans got off to a rough start.

When he did return in January, Thomas failed to display the offensive efficiency or explosiveness he became known for in Boston, he added to the Cavs’ defensive woes and struggled to find a role on the team. For a Cleveland team with championship aspirations, playing beneath the black cloud of LeBron James’ potential free agency, there was little patience shown within the organization. Nor was there acceptance from LeBron, who reportedly didn’t approve of acquiring Thomas in the first place, or the fanbase, who even expressed their displeasure with the Cavs’ birthday tweet to Thomas.

In just a few short months, in the eyes of the fans, Thomas went from beloved icon in Boston to public enemy number one in Cleveland.

Despite the small sample size of just 15 games, Thomas’ stats in Cleveland were alarming, wrote ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst.

In 15 games, he never once scored 29 points or more, let alone average that. He scored fewer than 10 points in a game as many times as he scored more than 20 (twice each). In total, he shot 36.1 percent from the field and 25.3 percent from 3-point range as a Cavalier. His negative-0.014 defensive win shares ranked 494th out of 502 players to have played in the league this season, according to NBA Advanced Stats.

At one point in late January, Thomas had a defensive rating of 117.5 with the Cavs. Not only was it the worst defensive rating by any player in the league playing at least 25 minutes per game, but it was also the worst by any player in the past 25 years, according to StatMuse.

After playing just 15 games with Cleveland, Thomas was traded to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

Now on his fourth NBA team and in the final few months of a contract year, Thomas was relegated to the role of sixth-man on a rebuilding team that likely had no intention of retaining him. This after a season in which Thomas was the league’s third leading scorer.

Thomas played 17 games for Los Angeles, averaging 15.6 points and 5.0 assists in 26.8 minutes per game. The hip injury that cost him eight months then began to flare up.

He soon underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair his right hip, a procedure he probably should have had prior to the trade to Cleveland, and was expected to be out four months.

It marked the end of a contract year that couldn’t have gone much worse for Thomas, costing him quite a few zeroes on his next deal.

Now an unrestricted free agent, Thomas not only won’t get the max contract he deserved back in 2017, he likely won’t even receive a multi-year offer. The 29-year-old has to prove himself all over again, as if the 2016-2017 season never happened.

An ideal place to do that is Orlando, which is why Thomas recently followed the Magic on Twitter and has reportedly been in contract negotiations with Orlando.

There are pros and cons to Thomas potentially joining the Magic. But no team in the league needs a point guard who is a high-volume shooter like Thomas more than the Magic, and no player in free agency needs a team that can offer minutes and opportunity like the Magic more than Thomas.

Thomas needs those minutes, shots and opportunities to prove that he is healthy and fully capable of being the player he was in 2017.

And he also has to prove that teams should finally bring the Brinks truck out.