Sunday Musings: Reconciling the loss of Isaiah Thomas
That is what Friday was about for the NBA’s greatest player. LeBron James made the difficult decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a dramatic moment four years in the making and his crafted statement announcing the move back to the Cavs was the perfect touch.
James’ decision set off a 24-hour wave of player movement like we have never seen before. Chris Bosh seemed primed to join forces with Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston, before spurning the Rockets’ deal and returning to the Heat. Carmelo Anthony chose the Knicks, signing a five-year, $122-million deal to stay in the Big Apple. Pau Gasol became a Bull, Trevor Ariza a Rocket and the Sacramento Kings lost Isaiah Thomas to the Phoenix Suns.
The majority of Kings fans aren’t happy that Thomas is gone. He is a story of the little engine that could. A tale of determination and triumph. The last player taken in the draft, he stormed to the head of his draft class, while endearing himself to his adopted fanbase.
That is what a contract at four years for $27 million means for Isaiah Thomas. It means that he secured at least a seven-year career in the NBA and he is no longer one of the lowest paid players in the league. It means that he has defied all of the odds, overcome the obstacle of being 5-foot-9 and secured his place in a league of giants. If he is smart with his money, he has secured generational wealth for his family.
Thomas has made it in the league and if you are a fan of his, you should move past your initial disappointment and applaud a great story.
Despite the fact that Thomas signed a contract with the Suns, it was Sacramento that ushered its most popular player out the door. As a restricted free agent, the Kings had the right to match any offer for his services. It is debatable, but Thomas’ new deal is in line with his production and maybe even a bit low. The math of securing Thomas would have been slightly complex, but doable none the less. The Kings saw the figure and essentially said, “No thank you.”
According to Darren Collison, the Kings new starting point guard, Sacramento was beating on his door at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, the day the new NBA season officially begins. Collison was Plan A, as the Kings landed him quickly with a three-year contract worth roughly $16 million.
General manager Pete D’Alessandro and his staff valued Thomas’ services at a certain dollar amount and as a reserve, not a starter. When Thomas commanded a figure they weren’t willing to match, they made a business decision. You can question that decision all you want; that is your right as a fan.
Thomas is not the first Kings player to leave the nest early, but his loss will certainly be felt. His infectious smile and ability to change the course of a game with a burst energy was impressive. He was an easy sell to the fans as a player to whom people from all walks of life could relate.
There are no guarantees that the Kings will be better this season, and there is a legitimate chance they will be worse without Thomas. But the Kings were a 28-win team last season, and that is not an acceptable win total.
Sacramento had three 20-point scorers, which sounds appealing, but isn’t practical. Three players controlled most of the touches and most of the acclaim while the other 10 players on the roster went hungry. Something had to give, so the Kings opted to move forward with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, at the expense of Thomas.
Sometimes you have to go backward to go forward. The Kings don’t believe that will be the case, but many others do.
Collison will start from the get-go. He is not a pass-first point guard, nor is he the flamboyant scorer that Thomas is. But he is a player willing to accept a role, like he did last season as Chris Paul’s backup with the Clippers. He is solid, efficient and has the leadership qualities for which the Kings had been looking.
The Kings saw Thomas as a player miscast as a starter. And in Sacramento, he had no interest in relinquishing that position. The Kings repeatedly brought in players to replace him, including Aaron Brooks and Greivis Vasquez, but in the end, he always won out. Sacramento didn’t want him to win emerge this time. If Thomas was coming back, it was to provide a punch off the bench, and that role doesn’t come with a starter’s paycheck.
Ironically, Thomas will come off the bench for the Suns, playing behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. He will push both of those players for minutes and give Phoenix one of the best three-guard sets in the league. But he relinquished his starting position when he took the big money from the Suns.
Losing Thomas to a conference rival is disappointing. It’s a move that has every chance to come back to haunt the Sacramento Kings. But this is the reality of the NBA – if you are a fan of a team, you understand that players come and go. Thomas is gone. He got paid handsomely to move to Phoenix, and if you loved him as a King, you should be happy for his success.