"I had the best year of my career and the worst year of my life at the same time." -Isaiah Thomas, in the Players' Tribune's "Book of Isaiah".
The date is set. On Tuesday night Isaiah Thomas will make his debut as a Cleveland Cavalier. Thomas has not played a game of NBA basketball since May 19th of last year, when he aggravated a lingering hip injury in game 2 of the eastern conference finals against his current team the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the time, he was the folk hero of Boston. Everyone knows his incredible story. Isaiah lost his sister in a car accident the day before they began their series with the Chicago Bulls and despite the emotional turmoil he endured, Thomas played. Seeing Isaiah, tears rolling down his face, sitting, head hung low while teammates and staff comforted him was heartbreaking. The toughness and drive that he exhibited in that series and their entire playoff run was enough to make anyone a fan. I know he won me over. Aside from the loss of his sister, Isaiah was also playing with a different kind of pain, something much more physical. For the last two months Thomas had been playing with an injured hip, something that needed mending. Despite this nagging ailment he played, he fought and he willed Boston to the conference finals. Isaiah Thomas gave Boston everything he had to give. Somehow, it wasn't enough.
The trade shocked everyone. Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 1st round pick. Boston made a move that they thought would improve their organization, a dick move, but like everyone says "it's a business." The trade hurt for many fans but the betrayal that Thomas felt was unparalleled. The team he'd gone to war for just traded him to their mortal enemy. Not only that, but they packaged him with a decent set of assets, a move that showed just how valuable they really believed him to be. Now whether that value was right or not is up for debate but that doesn't take the sting out of it. Believe it or not though, some saw his departure in the cards. On July 31st Thomas took to snapchat to post a picture of his custom Brinks Truck slides,
hinting at the idea that free agency was coming and he was looking to get paid the big bucks. No doubt about it, he was playing like an all star and all stars get max deals, but based on this "lol but for real" joke tweet
some speculated that Danny Ainge wasn't ready to shell out just yet. They were right.
After all that has happened, Thomas finds himself on the best team in the east and arguably the second best team in the league. That's not so bad, right? This off season has to have been hard, he was faced with doubt and criticism. People saying he could never be the same player after the injury, people who didn't really know what he was going through. Now is the time to show them.
Isaiah Thomas has used the doubt to fuel his return and the excitement is building but we may want to tamper that excitement. In fact I think that's what the Cavaliers are doing. On Tuesday night the Cavs face the Portland Trailblazers, nothing special about that right? Guess who they play the very next night? That's right, the Boston Celtics. Wouldn't their match up with the Celtics have been the most fantastic, dramatic, all eyes on us game of the year? Well yes, it would have been but the hype doesn't always help. Thomas is coming back from a difficult injury to recover from, one that after intense work can tighten up and remain sore. One that you wouldn't recommend playing back to back games after, right? How likely is it that he even plays on Wednesday night? Not likely at all. Sometimes it's wise to avoid the unnecessary emotion, sometimes taking your heart out of the equation is best in the long run. What we see here is the opportunity for Thomas to ease back into the game, no stress, less pressure and less scrutiny. I, like you, would love to see him return to TD Garden and light it up but the Cavaliers may be making a wise move. Who knows? Maybe he's drinking some of Lebron's secret sauce and his body is becoming unbreakable, maybe his hips are fine. I hope I'm wrong but I don't think that's the case.
Regardless of the game it's safe to say that fans around the league are excited for Thomas to make his return. I know I am. Let's hope he's back to his old offensively remarkable ways. Welcome back Isaiah, we've missed you.