Isaiah Thomas, eyeing free agency, has best game of season in Lakers' rout

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Friday, March 2, 2018

MIAMI -- Isaiah Thomas isn't sure what free agency holds for him this summer but said Thursday that his "résumé speaks for itself" and that if given the opportunity he can do again what he did in Boston.

And then Thomas backed it up with his best game of the season, scoring a game-high 29 points as the Los Angeles Lakers won their fourth straight game by crushing the Miami Heat, 131-113.

"All you need is one team to love you," Thomas said after the Lakers' morning shootaround in Miami. "It's like the draft all over again. You just need one team. So that is all I am doing and working toward. Until then, I am focused on doing whatever I can to make this the best team possible.

"My résumé speaks for itself. What I can do on the basketball floor speaks for itself. I can't do nothing but control what I can control, and that is taking advantage of any opportunity that I am given and playing my heart out. But come July, I got to weigh my options to do what is best for myself and my family."

Thomas buried 6-of-11 3-pointers and scored 29 points to go with 6 assists and 4 rebounds in 29 minutes. In his seventh game as a Laker, Thomas got hot at the start of the fourth quarter when he scored 11 straight points, including burying three consecutive 3-pointers in a minute.

"I remember watching that when he was back in Boston," said Lonzo Ball, who started at point guard and filled the box score with 8 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 6 steals. "That is what it reminded me of."

At times, Thomas looked like the guy who said last summer that he's "a max guy" and that his "time is coming" and "they know they've got to bring the Brinks truck out."

He was coming off a season in which he averaged 28.9 points, finished fifth in MVP voting, led the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals and grieved the death of his sister. Thomas was shut down during the conference finals after injuring his hip.

Thomas said Thursday morning that he was capable of being the player who was the focal point of the Celtics' success if given the opportunity, even if some have forgotten what he is capable of doing.

"It is, 'What have you done for me lately?' " Thomas said. "That is the league that we are in, and I understand that. But if I am given the same opportunity that I was given in Boston, I would do the same thing, and that is just what it is. They'll [people who have forgotten what Thomas can do] come back around, I am positive about that."

Thomas was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving deal, and he did not return to action from the hip injury until Jan. 2. He played in only 15 games with the Cavs before he was dealt at the trade deadline, along with Channing Frye and a protected first-round pick, to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

"First of all it was frustrating for him to work six, seven months, trying to get back on the basketball floor," said Miami's Dwyane Wade, who was with Thomas in Cleveland before both were traded at the trade deadline. "And then when you finally get out there, it's going to take you time obviously and you've got a 15-game experiment and it doesn't go right and it's not all your fault, but everyone's going to point at your fault. There's a lot of reasons things didn't go right. But the biggest thing is everything happens for a reason too and I liked the way that he's playing out there, he's free, he's got a different bounce in his step. He will continue to get his confidence back in his body, and his game."

In Los Angeles, Thomas is trying to rebuild his value while coming off the bench and adjusting to the Lakers. He says he is healthy but still not 100 percent, and he is focused on doing what he can to help the young Lakers.

"Whatever opportunity they give me, I am going to take advantage of it," Thomas said. "But I mean, it depends on what you are asking for. Like if you want me to go score 29 a game, I am definitely going to need more minutes, but I am not sitting here begging for more minutes. Whenever my name is called, I am going to be ready and take advantage of my opportunity."

Entering the Lakers' win at at Miami, Thomas was averaging 13.1 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 10-for-32 (31.2 percent) from the 3-point line off the bench in six games with the Lakers.

For the season, Thomas was averaging 14.3 points, 4.5 assists and shooting 26.9 percent on 3-pointers in his first 21 games.

Wade says if anyone can return from a hip injury and get back to All-Star MVP-candidate form, it's Thomas.

"Unbelievable year last year, him being a competitor and a warrior, he made his injury worse," Wade said. "Instead of putting his stock up there, feeling injury and said I'm done, let me get ready for the next season so I can get a max deal, he kept trying to fight and fight and fight for the city that he was playing for. So it's a tough situation man, but one thing I know about him, you don't become a household name at 5-foot whatever he is without having grit, without having toughness, without knowing that you can overcome anything. I definitely know that he can overcome anything that he's dealing with because he wouldn't be here today, we wouldn't be talking about him if he couldn't."

With the odds of landing a max contract probably gone, Thomas could be staring at the possibility of signing a one-year contract like JJ Redick did last summer when he joined the Sixers on a one-year, $23 million contract.

ESPN's Bobby Marks estimated that Thomas could fetch a one-year deal in the range of $15 million to $20 million.

There are teams with cap space, but Atlanta, Chicago, Brooklyn, Dallas, Philadelphia and Phoenix all either do not need a point guard, are rebuilding or could draft a point guard.

Thomas could also opt to go the midlevel route for a short-term deal and continue to try to rebuild his value, which is probably the least appealing option.

On this night in Miami, Thomas showed flashes of being the same prolific scorer he was last season in Boston.

"I could do it, I've done it before," Thomas said of playing the way he did in Boston if given the opportunity. "I'm a scorer, I'm a guy that makes plays. So when given that opportunity, I can do it, I've showed I can do it but there's no other way around it. I'm not here to prove to anybody I can do it, the world knows what I bring to the table and my job is just to help this team get to the next level and win.

"I was given more opportunity, coach put me in a position to be who I am," Thomas added. "Teammates set good screens to get me open and I got the easy part putting the ball in the basket. It all came together tonight."

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